Syrian refugee stranded in airport for months now at risk of 'imminent' deportation

A group from Whistler, B.C., has been lobbying to bring Hassan Al Kontar to Canada ever since he became stranded in the Kuala Lumpur airport in March. He is now in danger of immediate deportation back to Syria, leaving his legal team and advocates scrambling.

Group from Whistler, B.C., has been fighting to bring Hassan Al Kontar to Canada

A group from Whistler, B.C., has been lobbying to bring Hassan Al Kontar to Canada ever since he became stranded in the Kuala Lumpur airport in March. He is now in danger of immediate deportation back to Syria, leaving his legal team and advocates scrambling. (Hassan Al Kontar/Twitter)

A Syrian refugee who had been living in an airport since March has been moved to a detention centre, from which he could be deported back to Syria "at any time."

Hassan Al Kontar, 37, was arrested Monday after seven months stranded in the Kuala Lumpur airport. 

He was arrested for being in a restricted area without a boarding pass, but Malaysian authorities have since decided not to pursue charges.

On Friday, Al Kontar was moved to an immigration detention centre where his deportation could come at any moment. 

"To the best of my knowledge, there is a very real and imminent risk that he could be brought to the airport and put on a plane and sent back to Syria," said Al Kontar's lawyer, Andrew Brouwer.

Brouwer and Canadians who've been lobbying to help Al Kontar said he will face "inevitable" arrest and torture if he's deported, while human rights organizations say he is entitled to international protection.

'Very real' risk

Al Kontar became stranded in the airport after he was turned away from a Turkish Airlines flight in March, causing him to overstay his Malaysian visa.

He garnered thousands of followers on social media as he documented his day-to-day life living in a long, airport hallway.

Al Kontar actively documented his daily life in Kuala Lumpur International Airport on his Twitter account, which amassed thousands of followers. (Hassan Al Kontar/Twitter)

Al Kontar is originally from Dama, Syria, but has said he's wanted in his home country because he's refused military service. 

He's also Druze — a minority religious group in Syria that has been targeted by extremist groups — and has spoken out against the Assad regime.

"His risk in Syria is well-documented and very real," said Brouwer.

"When you send back refugee claimants who — like Hassan for example, are refusing to engage in military service or who have spoken out against the government — they face treatment that is beyond horrific."

Al Kontar worked in the Unites Arab Emirates from 2006 to 2017, but lost his work visa after the Syrian conflict erupted. He was left scrambling to find a country that would issue him a visa, so he would not have to return to Syria.

Canadians' efforts to help

A group of Canadians in Whistler B.C., has been trying to sponsor Al Kontar's application to come to Canada since he became stranded in the airport.

They've publicly lobbied Ahmed Hussen, Canada's minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, asking him to help.

On Friday, Brouwer said he's been told the Canadian and Malaysian authorities are actively "engaged in dialogue" about Al Kontar's case — something advocates have been pushing for since March.

The lawyer said he hasn't been able to speak to his client since he was arrested.

"He's been completely cut off. We are very, very much in the dark and as a result, very concerned that [deportation] could happen without any kind of notice."

Before his arrest, Hassan al Kontar, 36, had been posting videos blogs of his daily life at KLIA2, Kuala Lumpur's budget terminal, on Twitter and Facebook. (Hassan al Kontar/Twitter)

Amnesty International called Al Kontar's arrest the "latest misstep in a series of mishandlings" of the case.

"It would be abhorrent to see him deported to Syria," read a statement released Wednesday.

A statement from The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the agency is aware of Hassan's arrest and is communicating with Malaysian authorities.

Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations' 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, so the country considers Al Kontar an illegal immigrant.

Immigration, Citizenship and Refugees Canada has declined the CBC's request for comment.

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