Hassan al-Kontar fears arrest for refusing a military call-up and now survives on airline meals of rice and chicken
A Syrian man has spent more than a month living in a corner of a Malaysian airport sleeping under stairwells and showering in toilets after being left stranded by airlines and immigration officials.
Hassan al-Kontar, 36, fears being arrested in his home country for refusing a call-up for military service, and has been forced to make the transit section of Kuala Lumpur airport his new home for the past 37 days.
I dont know what to say or what to do. I need a solution, I need a safe place where I can be legally, with work, he said. Syria is out of the question, even if I am staying here forever. I dont want to be part of the fight, I dont want to kill anyone. I dont want to be killed as well. Its not my war.
Talking to the Guardian from behind a glass barrier to the airports arrival corridor, which he cannot leave, Kontar said his priority was working on getting out of the airport by sending emails to rights groups and uploading daily video diaries onto Twitter but often ends up distracted. Youre worried about your family [and] all these psychological pressures you have but most of the time youre trying to solve your temporary issues, said Kontar.
Kontar cannot wash his clothes properly and showers in a toilet for travellers with disabilities. I use it after midnight, [when] less people are there.
Kontars most recent quandary started in February when he was inexplicably turned away at the last minute from a Turkish Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Ecuador, where he hoped he could enter without a visa. He was then denied entry by Cambodia and Malaysia.
He initially went to Malaysia in January 2017, overstaying a three-month visa-free period, after being deported from the United Arab Emirates, where he had worked in marketing and the energy industries until 2011. His fortunes changed when the Syrian civil war saw him lose his work permit and was sent to a deportation centre.
Stranded and almost penniless, he now eats the same airline-provided package of rice and chicken for almost every meal. Occasionally, he spends some of his dwindling savings on a McDonalds meal or a coffee brought to him by airport cleaners, who charge him an extra 10 Malaysian Ringgit (1.80) for the service.
There have been similar stories in the past of Syrians and Palestinian refugees from Syria being stranded in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Istanbul since the war started, and Kontar said his story showed how Syrians had been left at the mercy of airlines and authorities.
Its not only my problem. Its the problem of hundreds of Syrian guys who feel they are hated, rejected, unwanted, weak, lonely, said Kontar.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, called on Malaysia to give the UNs refugee agency full access to Kontar to investigate his refugee status and, in the meantime, to make sure he has humanitarian assistance and is not detained by immigration authorities.
Malaysian authorities continue to say they are concerned about the bloodshed and horror being inflicted on civilians in Syrias ongoing civil war, but cases like Hassan Kontars will demonstrate whether Malaysia is prepared to back that rhetoric with real action, said Robertson.
A UNHCR spokeswoman, Yante Ismail, confirmed it had reached out to Kontar and the Malaysian authorities but could not comment on the individual case.
Turkish Airlines has not yet responded to requests for comment.