Syrian refugee stuck in Malaysia airport for nearly 50 days

PHOTO: Syrian refugee Hassan Al Kontar has spent over a month in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Malaysia.PlayCourtesy Hassan Al Kontar
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Remember the 2004 movie "The Terminal" that starred Tom Hanks as an immigrant from eastern Europe who became stranded at New York's JFK airport?

Hassan Al Kontar has a lot in common with Hanks' fictional character. The 36-year-old Syrian refugee has been stuck in the transit zone of Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia for more than 44 days because no country will take him. He's reached out to various news organizations around the world, political leaders like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Hanks himself for help.

“I sleep either on the floor or on uncomfortable chairs. I don’t have a clean set of clothes nor do I get to have a proper shower,” he told ABC News. “I depend on three [AirAsia]-provided prepackaged rice and chicken meals a day [for food].”

PHOTO: Syrian refugee Hassan Al Kontar has spent over a month in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Malaysia.Courtesy Hassan Al Kontar
Syrian refugee Hassan Al Kontar has spent over a month in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Malaysia.

Desperate and almost out of money, he said he occasionally splurges on a Starbucks coffee brought to him by airport cleaners, who have become his friends.

During his time trapped at the airport, Kontar has become something of an online celebrity himself, posting video blogs on Twitter and telling the world of his plight.

PHOTO: Syrian refugee Hassan Al Kontar has spent over a month in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Malaysia.Courtesy Hassan Al Kontar
Syrian refugee Hassan Al Kontar has spent over a month in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Malaysia.

It’s quite a tale.

Al Kontar left Syria in 2006 to avoid a compulsory military service and to seek a more prosperous life in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He got a residence permit and a series of jobs working for insurance companies in the UAE until 2011.

Then the Syrian war started, his passport expired and the Syrian embassy in the UAE refused to renew his travel document. Without a valid passport, he was barred from renewing his residency visa.

Still, Al Kontar stayed in the country, working illegally at a part-time job and refusing to return to Syria, which by then had become embroiled in a vicious civil war.

“I knew I could not go back,” he said. “My father died in Syria in late 2016 and I could not even go back for his funeral because I am wanted there.” Al Kontar is a member of Syria’s minority Druze community.

"I did not want to fight for the Syrian army. And I still will not!" he continued. "I do not want to kill my own brothers and destroy my country."

PHOTO: Syrian refugee Hassan Al Kontar has spent over a month in Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia.Courtesy Hassan Al Kontar
Syrian refugee Hassan Al Kontar has spent over a month in Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia.

Even though the Syrian government renewed his passport last year, Al Kontar said he "needed a fresh start somewhere else."

He surrendered to UAE authorities, who expelled him in October of 2017. UAE officials paid for his plane ticket to Malaysia -- one of the few countries granting Syrians visa-free three-month stays.

His plan was to ultimately fly to Ecuador, but when he tried to board his flight, he was turned away by Turkish Airways.

“For some reason, they did not allow me on the flight, and I was back at square one,” he said. “Without the $2,200 that I’d spent on the ticket.”

He was able to fly to Cambodia, another country Syrians are theoretically able to enter, with the little money he had left. He was turned away at the Phnom Penh International Airport, so he boarded a flight back to Malaysia, courtesy of AirAsia. He said it was his only option since he had ruled out returning to Syria, fearing he would be arrested upon arrival, imprisoned and forced to serve in the military.

Since Al Kontar had overstayed his Malaysian visa, he was fined and banned from re-entering the country for five years. The result? He's stuck at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

An official at Kuala Lumpur International Airport confirmed to ABC News that Al Kontar had been living in the airport since March 7 but would not comment further.

Over 5.4 million people have fled Syria since the start of the war in 2011, according to the United Nations' refugee agency, and Al Kontar is not the only one who has been trapped at an airport. In 2015, a Syrian family found itself in transit limbo at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport for over 50 days.

Al Kontar said he has received calls and messages from other Syrians who are facing similar circumstances.

"I'm not stuck here because I'm Hassan,” he said. "I'm stuck here because I'm Syrian. The story of my people is told through me. My problem is a humanitarian problem. It’s the problem of hundreds of Syrian guys who feel they are hated, rejected, unwanted, weak, lonely.”

Earlier this year, a Zimbabwean family of eight left a Bangkok airport where they had spent three months as they sought refugee status, according to the BBC.

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