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.


4 dead in Waffle House shooting in southern US state; suspect sought

Updated 23 April 2018
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4 dead in Waffle House shooting in southern US state; suspect sought

NASHVILLE, US: A nearly naked gunman wearing only a green jacket and brandishing an assault rifle stormed a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville early Sunday, shooting four people to death before a customer rushed him and wrestled the weapon away.
Authorities were searching for the 29-year-old suspect, Travis Reinking, who they said drove to the busy restaurant and killed two people in the parking lot before entering and continuing to fire. When his AR-15 rifle either jammed or the clip was empty, the customer disarmed him in a scuffle.
Four people were also wounded before the gunman fled, throwing off his jacket.
Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said there was no clear motive, though Reinking may have “mental issues.” He may still be armed, Anderson told a mid-afternoon news conference, because he was known to have owned a handgun that authorities have not recovered.
US Secret Service agents arrested Reinking last July for being in a restricted area near the White House, officials said. Special Agent Todd Hudson said Reinking was detained after refusing to leave the restricted area, saying he wanted to meet President Donald Trump.
State police in Illinois, where Reinking lived until last fall, subsequently revoked his state firearms card at the request of the FBI and four guns were then taken from him, including the AR-15 used in Sunday’s shooting as well as a handgun, authorities said.
Sheriff Robert Huston in Tazewell County, Illinois, said deputies allowed Reinking’s father to take possession of the guns on the promise that he would “keep the weapons secure and out of the possession of Travis.” Huston added that, based on past deputies’ encounters with Reinking, “there’s certainly evidence that there’s some sort of mental health issues involved.”
While Huston said it was unclear how Reinking reclaimed the guns, Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron said that his father “has now acknowledged giving them back to his son.”
Phone calls to a number listed for the father, Jeffrey Reinking, went unanswered.
Meanwhile, authorities hailed the customer who intervened to stop a further bloodbath, 29-year-old James Shaw, Jr., as a hero — though the father of a 4-year-old girl demurred and said he was just trying to survive.
One hand bandaged, Shaw told reporters he first thought the gunshots fired around 3:25 a.m. were plates falling from a dishwashing station.
When he realized what was happening, he took cover behind a door as shots shattered windows. The gun either jammed or needed a new clip, and that’s when Shaw said he pounced after making up his mind that “he was going to have to work to kill me.”
Shaw said he was not a religious man, but “for a tenth of a second, something was with me to run through that door and get the gun from him.”
They cursed at each other as they scuffled, Shaw said, and he was able to grab the gun and toss it over a counter. The gunman then ran away into the dark of the working- and middle-class Antioch neighborhood of southeast Nashville.
Authorities said he shed his jacket nearby and police found two AR-15 magazines loaded with bullets in the pockets. He was seen walking, naked, on a road, officials said, but later was spotted wearing pants but no shirt after apparently returning to his apartment.
Another witness, Chuck Cordero, told The Tennessean newspaper he had stopped to get a cup of coffee and was outside the Waffle House when the chaos unfolded.
“He did not say anything,” Cordero said of the gunman, who he described as “all business.”
Cordero said Shaw saved lives. “There was plenty more people in that restaurant,” he said.
The dead were identified as 29-year-old restaurant worker Taurean C. Sanderlin, and restaurant patrons Joe R. Perez, 20, Akilah Dasilva, 23, and Deebony Groves, 21. A police statement said Sanderlin and Perez were killed outside the restaurant, Groves was fatally shot inside, and Dasilva was critically wounded inside and later died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Aaron, the police spokesman, said two of the wounded were being treated for gunshot wounds at the medical center, where spokeswoman Jennifer Wetzel said one was in critical condition and the other was in critical but stable condition.
TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center spokeswoman Katie Radel in Nashville said two people were treated for minor injuries and released.
Aaron said Reinking had been employed in construction and lived near the restaurant, and police used yellow crime scene tape to block public access to an apartment complex about a half-mile from the Waffle House. Reinking is originally from Morton, Illinois.
“This is a very sad day for the Waffle House family,” the company said in a statement on Twitter. “We ask for everyone to keep the victims and their families in their thoughts and prayers.”
Nashville Mayor David Briley described the shooting as “a tragic day” for the city.
“My heart goes out to the families & friends of every person who was killed or wounded,” Briley said in an emailed statement. “I know all of their lives will be forever changed by this devastating crime.”
US Rep. Jim Cooper, whose district includes Nashville, said in an emailed statement that the shooting shows the need for tighter restrictions on “widespread civilian access to military-grade assault weapons.”
Nashville Chief Anderson said there was no Tennessee law that would have barred Reinking from having guns, though weapons could be taken away if the suspect had serious mental health issues. That would require taking him to court and having his rights taken away because of illness, a sometimes lengthy and difficult process, Anderson said.
Police reports filed in Illinois showed past run-ins with authorities there.
In May 2016, Tazewell County deputies were called to a CVS parking lot where Reinking told officers that Taylor Swift was stalking him and hacking his phone, and that his family was also involved, according to a report released Sunday. Reinking agreed to go to a local hospital for an evaluation after repeatedly resisting the request, the report said.
Another report from the sheriff’s office said Reinking barged into a community pool in Tremont, Illinois, last June and jumped into the water wearing a pink woman’s coat over his underwear. Investigators believed he had an AR-15 rifle in his car trunk, but it was never displayed. No charges were filed.