Hassan Al Kontar

Activist and Humanitarian. Human Rights and Refugee Issues Expert. 

Hassan Al Kontar is a Syrian refugee who was stranded at Kuala Lumpur International Airport from 7 March 2018 until his arrest on 1 October 2018. He is in exile of Syria since 2011, because he refuses to join the Syrian military and could face arrest if returned there. His plight has been compared to Tom Hanks’s character in the film The Terminal (who in turn was inspired by the real-life story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri who lived at France’s Charles de Gaulle Airport for 18 years). According to CNN’s Becky Anderson, his situation is not “unprecedented” and could become a more common problem for Syrian refugees because many countries will not accept Syrian nationals.

Al Kontar was born in Al-Suweida, Syria to a Druze family. originally emigrated from Syria to the United Arab Emirates in 2006, to work as an insurance marketing agent. His work permit expired in 2011, the year the Syrian Civil War started. After the Syrian embassy refused to renew his passport, Al Kontar stayed illegally in the UAE fearing he would be drafted into the war on his return. In 2017, he was arrested and deported to Malaysia, one of the countries where Syrians are granted visa-free entry. He attempted to go to Ecuador but, for unexplained reasons, Turkish Airlines staff denied him boarding for his flight nor would they refund his ticket. He then attempted to go to Cambodia but was denied entry and sent back to Kuala Lumpur. As his Malaysian tourist visa had expired, he was not allowed to enter the country and remained stranded at the airport in “legal limbo”.

There was some discussion of the Malaysian government offering him re-entry into the country but, with no formal offer, Al Kontar was advised not to because he was waiting for an offer for Canada, the United Kingdom, or France (as implied by one of his Twitter posts). Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and he claimed that he would not be recognized as a legitimate refugee although there are in fact many Syrian refugees in the country.

In 2018, Al Kontar landed at Vancouver International Airport as a permanent resident of Canada and is expected to start a job in Whistler, British Columbia. Al Kontar had been privately sponsored for asylum in Canada; he lives with the family of one of his sponsors, media relations consultant Laurie Cooper. Cooper has helped over 30 refugees settle in Canada Al Kontar currently speaks at events about human rights and works at a restaurant. Al Kontar is currently organizing a refugee resettlement program called Operation Not Forgotten, which they plan to raise a total of $3.3 million to resettle refugees stranded in Nauru and Manus Island into Canada. The refugees are from countries including Iran, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Iraq while some are stateless.

Having spent eight years of his working life in marketing roles, Hassan has a gift for sharing a compelling story with a broad audience. Hassan is committed to advocating for refugees around the world using the creative, upbeat approach that made him beloved by hundreds of thousands of people. He is driven by a single goal; to do his part in making the world a better place for all.

Topic Presentations

Syrian refugee Hassan Al Kontar became a media sensation last year after he found himself living in the arrivals terminal of a Malaysian airport. Al Kontar quickly realized that his situation was not because of who he was personally; it was because he carried a Syrian passport. Al Kontar spent 7 months at the airport and 2 months in detention before finally being allowed to come to Canada in November 2018. In this presentation, Al Kontar will talk about what he learned as a result of his experience, the plight of refugees around the world, and how individual Canadians can make a difference.

Syrian refugee, Hassan Al Kontar lived seven months in a Malaysian airport, stuck in arrivals after fleeing the war in his home country and initially unable to obtain a visa. He launched a Twitter campaign detailing his struggle before the B.C. Muslim Association and a group of sponsors took action to bring him to Canada. Join Hassan for this fascinating discussion about Hassan’s experience, the power of social media and the global refugee crisis.

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