WAKING up on Tuesday to news that the Syrian man living in Kuala Lumpur airport’s budget terminal was arrested came as a shock.
Hassan al-Kontar has been calling Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA2) “home” for the last seven months, living a life that is unimaginable and that few of us could endure.
It was back in April, at the request of refugee volunteer friends in Canada and Europe that I first met with Hassan face-to-face in the airport. In fact, I was the first person to sit down and interview him. It was around day 40 of his stay at KLIA2 and there were only five mentions of him on Google, three of which were from his own Twitter posts.
Just a week later there were over 25,000. Today that number is 124,000 on Google.
So why has he been arrested now? In part, it was those numbers.
KLIA district police chief Assistant Commissioner Zulkifli Adamshah told Malay Mail Hassan was arrested on Oct 2 “for not possessing a valid pass that lawfully allows him entry into Malaysia.” The police have been granted a 14-day remand over Hassan.
After seven months in limbo, the police arrested him as he was technically without a boarding card from a reasonably recent flight. But we have to remember, he’s also one of only 21 people since 1967 to have lived in an airport for an extended duration. So while the premise is valid, his circumstance is extraordinary and doesn’t fall within regular norms and rules.
I also know that the growing media and social media attention hasn’t helped Hassan here.
I am not getting help from @UNHCR as they claimed.
I am not on country shopping as UNHCR claimed.
I am not rejecting slightly suitable offers from UNHCR as they claimed.
Malaysia was not a transit stop for me as UNHCR claimed#mystory_hassan #syrian_stuck_at_airport pic.twitter.com/jvHtaVzdGS
— Hassan Al Kontar (@Kontar81) August 31, 2018
I’ve seen it from the start. Hell, I was the start if you count the vlog I uploaded to YouTube late in the night after meeting Hassan al-Kontar on April 22.
Within a few days, footage from the vlog appeared on Al Jazeera. He was being interviewed 10 times a day or more for television, radio, print, and online by everyone from BBC and CNN to innumerable other news channels. Even HBO’s Vice sent a team to cover him. Everyone wanted to hear the tale of the Syrian man living in an airport.
Around the same time, he also began sharing videos of his life at KLIA2 and detailing his situation on social media. Not every day but usually a few times a week. Hassan became a trending story and blew up overnight. And so did opinions on his choices.
Malaysia has not signed on to the United Nations Convention on Refugees. So while Malaysia does its best on a one-on-one basis with cases like Hassan’s, there is simply no legal framework for managing refugees. Because of this, refugees lack access to legal employment, making it difficult to support themselves.
That is the number one reason Hassan was choosing to wait it out and live inside the airport terminal instead of seeking asylum from Malaysia, and it’s hard to blame him. Hassan applied for asylum in Canada, which is where a job, family, and friends await him.
As someone who has spent many hours speaking with Hassan over the past six months, learning about his family, his childhood, his morals and values, and also about his dreams, I can tell you that the last thing Hassan wanted to do is bring negative attention to Malaysia. Being a Syrian passport holder has created this problem, not Malaysia. Well, that and a man’s whole-hearted passion to not take part in war.
Hassan now sits at a crossroads. I’ll be honest and say that I am scared for him for the first time since we met. Down one path is Syria, dark and dangerous. A land he fled because he does not want to kill anyone, or be killed.
In hard times, you will descover that what you become during the process is more important than the aim it self.
You knew it was hard but you did it hard.
My life journey in photos … pic.twitter.com/Pbnm9NX9Ve
— Hassan Al Kontar (@Kontar81) October 1, 2018
Down the other path is Canada.
I believe that the Malaysian authorities recently said they would send Hassan to either Canada or deport him to Syria. Sending him to Canada would be a wonderful act of humanity by the Malaysian government.
From what I understand, his application is in its second phase and there is a chance he could wait out the vetting process in Canada itself. He has family members and friends there and a tremendous amount of supporters waiting to help him get settled. It makes perfect sense.
Hassan al-Kontar is a good person who is living through something truly extraordinary on his quest to live in peace. I know I wouldn’t have handled his situation as well, nor remained as positive as he has. But I will never face his situation because I’m a US passport holder. I could travel back-to-back to hundreds of countries without anyone batting an eye, a luxury no Syrian enjoys because there are few doors open to them.
So what will happen next? In my heart, I know that he is going to be okay. I have only known Malaysians to be kind and fair so I trust that Hassan will be led down the safest path possible. Today my faith lies with those who hold this Syrian man’s fate in their hands.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent