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Syrian asylum seeker stuck in airport limbo after being denied entry to Cambodia

Syrian asylum seeker Hassan Al Kontar is pictured at a Kuala Lumpur airport on Wednesday, where he has been stranded for more than a month after Cambodian authorities rejected his entry into the Kingdom. Photo supplied
Syrian asylum seeker Hassan Al Kontar is pictured at a Kuala Lumpur airport on Wednesday, where he has been stranded for more than a month after Cambodian authorities rejected his entry into the Kingdom. Photo supplied

Syrian asylum seeker stuck in airport limbo after being denied entry to Cambodia

A Syrian asylum seeker has been stranded at a Malaysian airport for more than a month after Cambodian authorities blocked him from entering the Kingdom, he says.

Hassan Al Kontar, a member of the Druze minority from Swaida, in Syria, said he booked a flight from Malaysia to Cambodia on March 7, but was refused entry and sent back to Kuala Lumpur. He has remained at the airport ever since, a total of 36 days.

“I don’t want to be illegal in Malaysia, so I chose Cambodia,” he said, as the Kingdom is one of the few countries where Syrians can, in theory, get a visa on arrival. Once he landed in Cambodia, which is a signatory to the Refugee Convention, he was handed from one officer to another and peppered with questions about his finances.

“They took my passport. They humiliated me actually – they took a photo of me standing against the wall like a criminal,” he said.

Immigration officials did not give him clear reasons for rejecting him, he said.

Syrians can get a visa on arrival, but they will be turned back if they fail to meet the government’s “requirements”, according to Sok Veasna, a director at the Interior Ministry’s General Department of Immigration.

“Anyone can apply for the visa on arrival,” he said. “But we need to check what their purpose is.”

Among the reasons to reject entry is insufficient money for time spent in Cambodia, no return ticket or failure to book hotels or tours. Hassan said he had a return ticket, which he didn’t expect to use, and assured Cambodian authorities his financial situation was sound.

His aim was to stay in Cambodia for three days to a week before booking a flight to Ecuador, where he planned to seek asylum.

Now he fears he could be deported to Syria, where an ongoing seven-year war has claimed the lives of an estimated 400,000 people and forced 5.4 million to flee.

Hassan last visited Syria more than nine years ago. He lived in the United Arab Emirates between 2006 and 2017 – the last five years illegally after the Syrian Embassy allegedly refused to renew his passport.

When caught in 2017, he was finally issued a new passport and sent to Malaysia on a three-month visa. When that expired, he set his sights on South America.

He also claimed to have attempted to fly to Ecuador out of Malaysia, but was kicked off his flight and blacklisted, leading him to seek a more circuitous route through Cambodia.

“[It is] because I am Syrian. No one will admit to the racism, but you can feel it,” he said.

He said AirAsia is providing him three meals a day, but he had no place to shower or clean his clothes.

“I am trying to act strong, I don’t want to collapse. And I am my family’s hope,” he said. His mother, sister and brother are still in Syria.

In one of several Twitter videos outlining his predicament over the past month, Hassan describes what it is like to be a Syrian: “Lonely, weak, unwanted, rejected. No one is accepting us,” he says.

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