One Syrian the world forgot

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Hassan Al-Kontar
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Hassan Al-Kontar has been stranded at Kuala Lumpur InternationalAirport for more than a month because no country will take him. Shutterstock
Updated 17 April 2018
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One Syrian the world forgot

  • He was banned from flying to Ecuador by airport officials in Kuala Lumpur
  • Syrians are granted visas on entry but Al-Kontar was still not allowed in

LONDON: With the world’s attention focused on Saturday’s US-led missile strikes on Syria, the desperate plight of one Syrian has gone unnoticed. Hassan Al-Kontar has been stranded in the transit zone of Kuala Lumpur International Airport for more than a month because no country will take him.
In a case reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s film The Terminal, Al-Kontar, 36, has been living in the Malaysian airport terminal for 40 days, ever since his bid to find a country that would allow him in without a visa ran out.
“I have nowhere to sleep but the uncomfortable chairs, given one meal per day. I don’t have a clean set of clothing nor do I have a proper shower,” he told Arab News.  
While he waits it out in the airport, Al-Kontar has been posting video blogs on Twitter and Facebook telling the world of his plight. He left Syria in 2006 and was working for a private company in the UAE until 2011 before his passport expired.  With the start of the Syrian war, the company refused to renew his work permit and he remained in the country illegally until 2017.
He decided not to return home to avoid conscription in the Syrian army. “I am not a coward,” he said. “I simply refuse to participate in a war that is not mine and I refuse to kill my own people. I can never go back.


“In 2017, the Syrian government granted me a passport renewal for two years, but I could only renew it once,” Al-Kontar said. “I decided that I needed a new fresh start somewhere else and so I gave myself up to the UAE authorities, where I was then deported to Malaysia.”  
He was allowed into Malaysia on a visitor’s visa. “It was difficult, though I was given a visa upon arrival, since Syrians are not required to have an existing visa, but the problem was that there were no jobs that paid well, living expenses were high and my time was running out.”
As a Syrian, he isn’t allowed in without a visa to many countries, but he devised another plan. Ecuador, one of the few countries in the world to allow Syrians in without a visa, was next. He contacted the Ecuadorian Embassy to confirm this and booked a flight on Turkish Airlines through Istanbul to Bogota, Colombia onward to Quito, Ecuador via Turkish Airlines and Avianca Air.
He encountered his first problem while trying to board his Turkish Airlines flight. “The airline-counter officer refused to look me in the eye, showed signs of ill intent and interrogated me.  It was unnerving and very displeasing.
“The officer … claimed that there was no agreement between Avianca Air and Turkish Airlines to transfer my luggage to the next flight to Ecuador. The ticket cost me approximately $2,300 and after waiting for two hours, I was denied boarding and was sent back to Kuala Lumpur.”
Al-Kontar was in shock, having spent almost all his money on his failed bid. He said he had provided all the necessary documents and had been assured by both the Turkish and Colombian embassies that he did not require a transit visa to reach Ecuador. “I was back at square one. This has taken a major toll on me financially and emotionally.”
He then flew to Cambodia, where Syrians are granted visas upon arrival, but was turned back on the same flight to Kuala Lumpur when he didn’t meet certain requirements.  
“I was denied re-entry or renewal of my visa to Malaysia, and I’ve been here in the transit terminal since the seventh of March.”
That’s when Al-Kontar began his social media campaign. “I started to take matters in my own hands, posted daily vlogs and contacted every organization I could think of to tell them of my plight. This is uncalled for and I am in a weak state of mind to handle this any longer. I received many emails back giving me ‘advice’ on how to handle things, but advice will not get me out of the airport and find a stable place to live.”
His 40 days have been filled with nothing more than walking around the terminal and trying to figure out his next move.   “I am neither the first nor the last Syrian to be stuck in transit. I feel like my life is in limbo. My case is not a political one, it’s humanitarian,” Al-Kontar told Arab News.
On April 12, he met a UNHCR representative in Malaysia and after a lengthy interview, his plight has become known to them as well as Human Rights Watch. His legal status is still unknown.

 

With the amount of media pressure and an upcoming election, Malaysia’s deputy home minister said his ministry is aware of Al-Kontar’s case, according to The Star, the country’s largest English-language newspaper.  
Al-Kontar confirmed news that the ministry has considered issuing him a special pass under the Syrian Refugee Program, but he has refused the offer. “I refused for various reasons, the first being that it’s not a program that can grant me a place in society. Malaysia is not part of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and so this program is one that benefits a specific segment of Syrians. Second, I am not allowed to work or make a living and if I try to do so, I’ll be expelled. Why should I succumb to this?  I’d rather stay in the airport until further notice,” Al-Kontar said.


“This is a propaganda stunt and it only delayed my problem. The program in question is run by private entities and has provided 3,000 Syrians so-called refugee status, but that’s far from the truth.  It will only protect them after their three-month visitor’s visa expires. Once my passport is expired, I’ll be here for good and will never be allowed out,” Al-Kontar said.
Furthering his plight, the program isn’t officially recognized on an international level. If Al-Kontar agrees, his status will not be determined by any UN-affiliated organization.  
Awaiting his fate, Al-Kontar has assured Arab News that he will not succumb to the pressure he’s under to cave in. “I call on the international community to review my case. I do not intend to do anything but start a life somewhere safe and work to give back to a country that can accept me.”

Decoder

What is Ecuador’s New Human Mobility Law?

A law that recognizes as a principle the right of people to move freely around the globe, regardless of their nationality or place of origin.  The law unanimously passed by the UN National Assembly became effective on February 6th, 2017.  It represents a major step in the protection of refugees and asylum seeker and updates the framework for regularization of the status of immigrants, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and victims of trafficking and 
human smuggling.


UPDATE 1-“Brexit continues to mean Brexit“: May presses on with her plan

Updated 7 min 23 sec ago
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UPDATE 1-“Brexit continues to mean Brexit“: May presses on with her plan

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday her government had begun negotiations with the European Union based on her hard-won Brexit plan, pressing on with a proposal criticized by both wings of her Conservative Party.
After narrowly escaping defeat in parliament over her plans for leaving the EU, May signalled she would not drop a proposal on Britain’s future relationship with bloc — the biggest shift in its foreign and trade policy for almost half a century.
But by sticking to her plan for a “business-friendly” departure, May has thrown down the gauntlet to Brexit supporters and pro-EU lawmakers in her party who are at war with each other, and — for some — with the prime minister herself.
Boris Johnson, her former foreign minister who quit over what is called the Chequers plan, was one of the first to renew his call for government to rethink its strategy, saying “it is not too late to save Brexit.”
But at an earlier session of parliament, May stood firm after being challenged by one pro-Brexit lawmaker in her party to explain when she had decided to change her catchphrase from “Brexit means Brexit,” to “Brexit means Remain.”
“Brexit continues to mean Brexit,” May said to cheers from her Conservative supporters.
May also said talks had already started with Brussels based on the proposal set down in a white paper policy document last week after her divided government had thrashed out a deal at her Chequers country residence.
The prime minister insisted she was confident Britain had enough time to negotiate a deal with the EU before leaving in March next year.
While May’s party is in disarray over the plan, EU member Ireland also said it was focusing on the white paper, unwilling to be diverted over the changes to her Brexit plans forced through in parliament this week.
“If we get distracted by individual amendments to individual pieces of legislation ... then I think we get dragged into an unnecessary debate that wastes a lot of time and energy,” Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told state broadcaster RTE.

“WE CAN CHANGE“
May’s vulnerability in parliament, where she lost her majority in an ill-judged election last year, was laid bare on Monday and Tuesday when she faced rebellions from both the pro-Brexit and pro-EU wings of her party.
She won the votes on a customs and a trade bill, but suffered an unexpected defeat on a separate amendment, which means her government must now seek continued participation in the European medicines regulatory framework.
But the government’s approach to securing victory in parliament has not only deepened divisions in her party, but also raised the issue of trust.
One Conservative lawmaker told Reuters the party whips, whose job it is to enforce discipline in parliament, had threatened to call a confidence vote in May if she lost — a move that could bring down the government.
Johnson, figurehead of the Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum, led those calls in his resignation speech to parliament. He criticized the government for handing an advantage to the EU by agreeing in the talks to a divorce bill before agreeing a future relationship.
“We have time in these negotiations, we have changed tack once and we can change again,” he said. “It is as though a fog of self-doubt has descended,” Johnson said. “We should not and need not be stampeded by anyone.”