By Hadi Azmi
Malaysian immigration officials on Tuesday said they plan to extradite a Syrian who spent seven months at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 after refusing to return to his home country over fears he would be forced to join the military.
Hassan Al Kontar, 37, who spent 209 days at the airport’s departure area, was detained by police on Monday.
Immigration Director General Mustafar Ali said Hassan will be handed over to his department after police finished questioning the Syrian national.
“Flight passengers with boarding passes at the boarding area are supposed to get on their flights. But this man did not do so,” Mustafar told reporters at the immigration headquarters on Tuesday. “So he is in a forbidden zone, therefore the authorities had to take the necessary action.”
“We will communicate with the Syrian embassy to facilitate his deportation to his home country,” Mustafar said.
Police chief Zulkifli Adamshah told BenarNews that Hassan was detained after failing to produce a valid travel document and has been remanded for 14 days. If charged and convicted, Hassan could face a five-year prison sentence, a fine of 10,000 ringgit (U.S. $2,418) and a maximum six strokes of a cane.
Describing himself as a pacifist, Hassan said he worked in the United Arab Emirates beginning in 2006 and decided to stay there illegally because of the 2011 Syrian conflict after the Syrian embassy declined to renew his passport.
He was deported in January 2017 to Malaysia where Syrians enjoy visa-free entry and stayed after his three-month tourist visa expired.
Hassan said he has remained at KLIA2 since March 7 after trying to board a flight to Ecuador, another visa-free country, but was denied by the Turkish Airlines. He later tried to travel to Cambodia, but was barred by authorities in Phnom Penh.
Groups offered help
In a video posted to his Twitter account on March 23, Hassan said he felt “lonely, rejected, and unwanted.”
“I lost all my money, almost $2,300 on non-refundable ticket, so here I am,” Hassan said, adding that human rights groups were not helping.
“I cannot blame anyone. I can only blame us as Syrians,” he said. “This is what we did to ourselves, keep fighting with each other.”
Rights groups in Malaysia challenged Hassan’s claim that he was not getting help and said he purposefully declined their efforts in hope of scoring better offers including being able to go to Canada.
On April 10, former British Columbia journalist Laurie Cooper offered to help Hassan by starting a crowd source funding effort and to write to the Canadian immigration minister to expedite a temporary resident permit.
Lilianne Fan, founder of the non-governmental organization Geutanyoe Foundation, told BenarNews that her agency decided to drop efforts to aid Hassan after he repeatedly rejected assistance from the Malaysian government and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“There are many more much more vulnerable refugee cases that we felt deserve our assistance,” said Fan.
Despite her comment, Fan urged the government to not deport Hassan to Syria as it would be against the principle of not forcing refugees to return to a country where they could be subjected to persecution.
In a Twitter posting on Sept. 1, Hassan denied the comments by the rights groups, saying “I am not rejecting slightly suitable offers from UNHCR as they claimed.”