Toronto: More than eight months after becoming stranded in the transit zone of Kuala Lumpur’s airport, a Syrian man is finally heading to Vancouver after being granted asylum in Canada.
Hassan Al Kontar had been stranded in the airport’s arrival corridor since February, when he was refused permission to board a flight to Ecuador, and was then denied entry by Cambodia and Malaysia .
“Tomorrow, I will be reaching my final destination: Vancouver, Canada,” said Al Kontar in a video posted on Twitter during a layover in Taiwan on Monday. “I could not do it without the help of my family - my Canadian friends and family and my lawyer. Thank you all. I love you all,” he said
Unable to return to Malaysia, where he had overstayed his visa, Al Kontar was trapped in limbo, in a part of the airport without restaurants or shops. He was forced to sleep under stairwells, shower in a disabled toilet and depend on the generosity of airline staff who donated meals.
His frequent video diaries, in which he described the absurdities of his situation, quickly gained a large online following - including Laurie Cooper, a media relations consultant in Whistler, Canada.
After contacting Al Kontar, she and a group of friends petitioned Canada’s immigration minister for the law school graduate to be resettled in Canada, where residents can pool money to privately sponsor refugees.
The group quickly crowdfunded more than $13,600 - the amount needed to privately sponsor a refugee for resettlement in Canada, but last month Malaysian authorities arrested Al Kontar and officials suggested he would likely be deported to Syria.
His family, lawyer - and Canadian sponsors - lost all contact with him, but Canadian consular officials worked to arrange his resettlement, which normally takes up to 26 months in Malaysia.
“I’m very grateful that Canadian officials, when Hassan was truly in peril, worked very, very hard to expedite the process,” said Cooper.
On Sunday, Al Kontar texted Cooper to say that he was on his way.
“I spent the day washing the sheets and making up the bed in my guest room for him,” said Cooper.
“It all seemed impossible: I’m a mum who lives in a little log cabin and he was living in an airport,” said Cooper. “When he finally lands in Vancouver, the first thing she plans to say to him: ‘We did it!’”
Since 2015, more than 14,000 Syrian privately sponsored refugees have resettled in Canada.