Syrian arrested after months trapped in Malaysia airport

Syrian Hassan al-Kontar has been stranded at the budget terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport since March 7, 2018. PHOTO: HASSAN AL KONTAR

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - A Syrian man has been arrested after almost seven months stranded in a Malaysian airport, an official said Tuesday (Oct 2), in a bizarre saga that drew comparisons with the hit movie The Terminal.

Hassan al-Kontar had been stuck at the budget terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport since March 7, when officials refused to let him board a flight to Ecuador.

Kontar, reportedly sought by the authorities in his homeland for failing to serve in the military, was also refused entry into Cambodia and not allowed back into Malaysia due to visa issues.

The 36-year-old was left stranded in the terminal, surviving on donated airline meals and washing in the toilets.

He made repeated appeals in a series of YouTube videos, lamenting that rights groups had refused him help and no one would take him in.

But Malaysian immigration chief Mustafar Ali said police had finally decided to arrest Kontar and remove him from the airport on Monday, as his posts, which were garnering growing media attention, had embarrassed Malaysia.

"His statements on social media shamed Malaysia," Datuk Seri Mustafar was cited as saying by official news agency Bernama.

"(He) was arrested yesterday because he was in a restricted area without a boarding pass."

Officials will now work with the Syrian authorities to get him deported to his homeland, he said.

A civil war has been raging in Syria for the past seven years, leaving more than 350,000 people dead.

Kontar's case is reminiscent of the 2004 film The Terminal, in which Tom Hanks plays a man who finds himself stuck in a New York airport after his government collapses, rendering his papers useless.

Reports say Kontar had been working in the United Arab Emirates but was deported to Malaysia in January 2017.

However he overstayed a three-month tourist visa and is now blacklisted, meaning he cannot re-enter the country.

He flew to Cambodia but was refused entry before being sent back to Kuala Lumpur airport on March 7.

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