A Syrian man who spent seven months stranded at a Malaysian airport after being refused a visa, has been granted asylum and permanent residency in Canada.
Hassan al Kontar, 37, who works in insurance marketing, had been stuck in Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 since March.
While stranded, Al Kontar created a fan base on Twitter, documenting his gruelling time at the airport he has been stranded at since March 7. He shared short videos and pictures, where he slept, how he ate, and even where he "exercised".
Kontar's video diaries got international attention, and thousands of people began following his near-daily updates.
Among them was Laurie Cooper, a complete stranger living in Whistler, British Columbia, who, along with a group of friends, petitioned Canada's immigration minister to admit Kontar as a refugee.
Through a crowdfunding campaign, they raised the US$13,600 required for citizens to privately sponsor a refugee for resettlement, the Guardian reported. Then they waited to see if his application would be approved.
At the beginning of October, Kontar's updates abruptly stopped. Malaysian officials said that he had been arrested for being in a restricted area of the airport without a boarding pass.
Panic set in among Kontar's sponsors, who urged Canadian officials to speed up the resettlement process, fearing that he would be deported to Syria.
Finally, on Sunday (local time), Cooper got a text message from Kontar: He was on his way. The next morning, a new video appeared at the top of his Twitter feed for the first time in months. Once again, Kontar was at the airport. This time, though, he had a destination.
On Twitter, he shared of himself landing in Vancouver, Canada, in the early hours of Tuesday morning (local time), thanking his family, friends and lawyers in helping him leave the airport.
"The last 10 months, it was very hard. I could not do it without the support and prayers from all of you. Could not do it without the help of my family, my Canadian friend's family, and my lawyer. Thank you all. I love you all. I will keep you updated," he posted.
"Let's keep the prayers for those who still need it the most, in refugee camps and detention camps all over the world, I hope they will be safe and legal as soon as possible, too."
While stranded at the airport, al Kontar missed his little brother's wedding, wasn't allowed outside and was never able to sleep with the lights off.
THE FIRST TWO MONTHS
Al-Kontar spent most of his time in terminal two. He slept under staircases and showered in the public bathrooms — after midnight, when fewer people were around.
He relied on supplies from airport staff, and his only meals are packets of rice and chicken from a generous airline.
His savings were quickly running out, but occasionally he treated himself to McDonald's at the airport food court.
Day in and day out, he watched and waited.
The Syrian man who has spent the past decade in the United Arab Emirates, was in bureaucratic limbo. He lost his passport when he refused to fight in Syria's brutal civil war, so Malaysia wouldn't let him leave the airport, and airlines wouldn't fly him out.
THE JOURNEY TO TERMINAL 2
Kontar had already left Syria by the time civil war broke out in 2011. By then, the young man from Dama, south of Damascus, was working as an insurance marketing manager in the United Arab Emirates.
Eventually, he was summoned for military service in Syria, which he had no interest in, so he refused. ("I don't consider it right to participate in war," he later told the BBC.)
But his refusal prompted the Syrian embassy in the UAE to decline a renewal of his passport in 2012.
Without a passport, Kontar couldn't renew his work permit either, so he also lost that, along with his job. He went into hiding in the UAE for six years, until he was detained by authorities and sent to Malaysia with a three-month work permit.
After three months, Kontar tried to fly to Ecuador, which allows Syrian nationals to enter visa-free.
"I saved up enough money to buy a plane ticket on Turkish Airways. But for some reason, they did not allow me on the flight and I found myself back at square one," he told the BBC.
He said he was fined for "overstaying" in Malaysia and was "black-listed" — meaning he couldn't legally enter the country.
Kontar then tried to go to Cambodia, which also let Syrians obtain a visa on arrival, but was refused entry. He was flown back to Kuala Lumpur on March 7, and has been stuck at the airport ever since.
'I WAS JUST COUNTING DAYS HERE, WITH NO HOPE'
During the first two months at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Kontar documented his plight on Twitter, with his feed becoming a kind of diary of his bizarre situation.
He shared words of hope, humour, peace, fear, frustration and hopelessness, along with photos from his terminal two home, and video diaries, many in English.
He said he didn't like people dwelling on his unusual living conditions but it was hard to not be captivated by his insights into daily life at the airport. Some days had been harder than others.
"I am just counting days here, with no hope," he said in a video posted on March 23.
"I don't know why I keep doing these videos; maybe somewhere deep inside my feelings or my heart I need someone who cares, someone who may [be] able to help, [but] somewhere I know it's hopeless. It's a false hope.
"I don't know what to do. It seems like it will be my home for a while.
"It's a difficult situation. There's no place to shower, there's no place to sleep. I'm even sick but there is no medicine."
During the video, he was interrupted by chimes signalling an announcement over the airport PA system.
"This sound, I swear — I hate this sound," he said with the frustration of a person who has been stuck in an airport for way, way too long. "It's everywhere, day and night."
In a video, he said his mum had seen him being interviewed on TV and told him she didn't like his longer beard and haircut.
Kontar acknowledged there were Syrian refugees in greater peril, but his situation reflected a humanitarian crisis.
"The minute the Turkish [airline] cancelled my ticket and did not allow me to board, it was not because of me, Hassan, it was because of my nationality," he said.
"From that point, it became a general problem, not a personal one."
- Additional reporting news.com.au, Washington Post