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Syrian man’s immigration nightmare: stranded for months in a Malaysian airport

Hassan al Kontar, a Syrian national, has been living in Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur airport for more than 60 days, stuck in legal limbo over his immigration status. The PBS NewsHour’s Rhana Natour reports.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The crisis in Syria has affected millions of people, but one unusual story is making recent headlines.

    As the "NewsHour"'s Rhana Natour explains, a Syrian man is stuck in limbo in an airport, unable to leave.

  • Hassan Al Kontar:

    As you can hear, I'm at the airport.

  • Rhana Natour:

    Hassan Al Kontar, a Syrian national, has been living in Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur Airport for over 60 days.

  • Hassan Al Kontar:

    I don't know what should I do. Someone advised me to make a video.

  • Rhana Natour:

    Stuck in legal limbo because of his immigration status, the 36-year-old has taken to video blogging life inside the airport.

  • Hassan Al Kontar:

    And this sound, I swear I hate this sound. It's everywhere.

  • Rhana Natour:

    His story draws parallels to the 2004 Tom Hanks film "The Terminal" about a man stuck in an airport after a war erupts in his country.

  • Actress:

    Are you headed for home?

  • Tom Hanks:

    No, I am delayed long time.

  • Rhana Natour:

    And like Hanks' character, Al Kontar must be resourceful. He spoke to us via Skype.

  • Hassan Al Kontar:

    Things you will never think outside is an issue will become a major issue.

  • Rhana Natour:

    Like what?

  • Hassan Al Kontar:

    Like when you are going to sleep, where you are going to sleep, what to eat.

  • Rhana Natour:

    Al Kontar showers in the airport bathroom, and sleeps in this stairwell.

  • Hassan Al Kontar:

    I may also secretly smoke a cigarette or half a cigarette quickly in the bathroom.

  • Rhana Natour:

    When the Syrian war began in 2011, Al Kontar was living in the United Arab Emirates, where he was an insurance marketing manager.

    When his Syrian passport expired, Al Kontar says he stayed illegally in the UAE because he feared returning to Syria would mean forced military service.

  • Hassan Al Kontar:

    They will take me. They may jail me first for some investigations. And then after that, they will send me for one of the military trainings.

  • Rhana Natour:

    In 2017, Al Kontar was deported to Malaysia, one of the few countries that grants Syrians an entry visa. But that visa soon expired.

    He then bought a ticket to Ecuador, a country that would also allow him entry, but the airline wouldn't let him board because that flight stopped in Turkey a country he is not allowed to enter. All the other flights go to countries that could send him back to Syria. He has become a fixture in this small transit terminal, recognized constantly by passengers.

  • Hassan Al Kontar:

    They want to take selfie, and they feel shy from it.

    So, I start telling them, would you like to take a selfie?

  • Rhana Natour:

    Now a volunteer group is trying to bring him to Canada, raising over $16,000 to sponsor him. But the application takes over two years to process. The group is asking the Canadian government to grant Al Kontar a special permit, so he can enter Canada immediately.

    Laurie Cooper is one of those volunteers.

  • Laurie Cooper:

    He has lost his life. As a Syrian refugee, he has lost his homeland, he has lost his family, his friends. So I just hope that we can convince the Canadian government to give this guy the chance to come to Canada and build a life in a safe country.

  • Rhana Natour:

    But Al Kontar's immigration nightmare may be far from over. Canada's Ministry of Immigration tells the "NewsHour" that the request is under review.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Rhana Natour.

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