TORONTO (CTV Network) — Syrian refugee Hassan al Kontar became an unlikely internet celebrity after he was trapped in the Kuala Lumpur Airport for months before making his way to Vancouver in 2018, detailing his experience in a new book.
Al Kontar, who refused to return to Syria for compulsory military service or buy an exemption when the conflict began in 2011, was arrested and deported from the United Arab Emirates, where he had been working for several years.
Without status in the UAE for six years, Al Kontar was able to renew his passport in 2017, travelling to one of the few countries accepting Syrians without a visa for 90 days — Malaysia — which is how he ended up trapped in the Arrivals terminal in Kuala Lumpur for months as he tried to avoid returning to Syria.
He tweeted about his daily experiences, quickly gaining many followers who sympathized with his situation, which eventually led to an organized campaign for him to claim asylum in Canada.
Since arriving in B.C., Al Kontar has continued his advocacy for refugees around the world and works as an emergency care worker for the Red Cross. He is now a Canadian permanent resident.
His new book “Man at the Airport – How Social Media Saved My Life” details his experiences and what it means to be Syrian, an “illegal” and a refugee.
“All I was asking for was a place to call home, and a place to be permanently safe, to be legally working,” Al Kontar said of his journey to Canada on CTV’s Your Morning Wednesday.
Al Kontar features the role social media played in his life in the new book: “We’re living in the future, the right now – its fascinating people don’t need to write a sign and go out to protest anymore, they can create a wave, create a change and be a part of it while they are enjoying their life in their living room.”
He described social media as a “tool” that could “either be lifesaving or a weapon of mass destruction, it’s up to us how to use it.”
“For me, it changed my life.”
Al Kontar’s book is now available in the U.S. and Canada.
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