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Syrian man seeks passage to Mars as way out of KLIA limbo

Syrian Refugees | 2018-06-17 20:05:00
Syrian man seeks passage to Mars as way out of KLIA limbo
   Hassan Al Kontar speaks about his plight in a video on the Newsweek website. – Screenshot, June 16, 2018.
TO Hassan Al Kontar, Mars is an increasingly attractive and possibly the only way out of the transit lounge of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The Syrian has lived at the terminal in Sepang for more than 100 days now, watching the people go by while his funds and options dwindle by the day.

Newsweek reports that the 36-year-old asylum seeker has been refused entry into the United Arab Emirates, Cambodia and Ecuador in the past year. He cannot go home to Syria because he said he would be arrested for dodging the draft.

In the meantime, there has been no word from Canada, his "only hope" left. After his story broke, Canadian volunteers had reached out to Hassan with prospects of a job and about US$17,000 (RM75,000) to sponsor him to enter the country as a refugee. After three phone interviews, he was offered a position in a hotel in Vancouver.

But the final and most important document of all has yet to be issued – a temporary resident permit.

The wait is agonising for Hassan, who grows more despondent with each flight he sees departing the airport where he is stuck. 

Where else should he go but Mars, he reasoned. In a fit of exasperation, he has applied to Nasa for a job on its next expedition to the inhospitable planet.

In some ways, his life already resembles that of a transplanted alien. He lives under the stairs at the terminal, and off the kindness of strangers. Airport staff provide him with three pre-packaged AirAsia meals a day, and the airport facilities let him clean up every day. Even more generous airport employees do his laundry for him. He also gets coffee. “Every few days someone from the airport brings me a cup.”

This was not what he had imagined when he moved to United Arab Emirates from Syria in 2006 in search of work and a better life. When war broke out at home, he had ignored a summons to be drafted. As a result, the Syrian embassy would not renew his passport and his visa soon expired.

“I refused (to join the army) not because I am a coward but because I don’t believe in war,” he said. “It’s not the solution, it’s not the answer. I don’t want to kill my own people and it is not my war," he told Newsweek.

Hassan overstayed and worked illegally to avoid returning to Syria. In October 2017, he was apprehended by immigration authorities and deported to Malaysia, one of the few countries that allows Syrians to enter and stay for up to three months. From here, he boarded a plane to Ecuador but was turned away at the airport.  “It’s impossible to get a visa anywhere. This is our life as a Syrian. It’s a tragedy."

He next tried Cambodia but airport authorities in Phnom Penh put him on a flight back to Kuala Lumpur. “From that day I have been stuck here alone,” Hassan said. “I am very familiar with feelings of rejection, hatred and being unwanted.”

Confined by the law to the terminal, Hassan spends his time, of which he has plenty, on the internet, talking to his mother and the various agencies working to get him out of his quandary. His money, which grows scarcer each day, is spent on the occasional fast food and on maintaining his electronic – and last link – with the world.

He wrote on his Nasa job application:  “It’s very clear by now that there is no place for me on this earth as no country is allowing me in. I have a lot of space movies experience so I know my way around a spaceship including space combat from star wars movies so it will not take long time for you to train me.”

The half-jocular tone only half-masks the sadness he feels about his outcast status.

“(If] they accepted me, I would go and never look back,” he said. “I cannot understand why there is so much hatred in the world, if I could escape that, I would.” – June 16, 2018.

The Malaysian Insight
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