Stop the world, Terminal Man wants to get off
A Syrian man stuck in an airport’s arrivals lounge has become an unlikely social media sensation
If you find yourself in the arrivals lounge of Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 any time soon you may notice a scrawny, bearded Arabic man wearing glasses. If you keep up with the right news sites and social media feeds, you might think you’ve seen him before. That’s because since March 7 Syrian native Hassan Al-Kontar has been stuck in the airport’s arrivals lounge and his story has captured the imagination of many around the world. He’s just like Tom Hanks in Terminal Man except his country still exists and Catherine Zeta Jones is nowhere to be found.
Al-Kontar has become such a social media star that he hides out under an escalator to avoid people who come to the airport just to find him or those who have proposed marriage in an effort to help him out of his dilemma.
In 2011 when the Syrian civil war broke out, Al-Kontar was working as an insurance marketer in the UAE. He received a summons from the Syrian government to return to the country and fulfil his military service obligation. He refused and continued to work until his passport expired in 2012.
Because of his refusal, the Syrian government would not renew his passport and so he stayed on in the UAE as an illegal citizen with no employment until he was caught and jailed by authorities in January 2017. While in jail a friend managed to renew his passport and slip it to him before UAE immigration tried to send him back to Syria. He convinced them to send him to Malaysia instead because the country is one of the few that grants Syrians a three-month visa on arrival.
Al-Kantor overextended his stay in Malaysia and tried to find work but to no avail. He tried to escape twice – once to Ecuador and once to Colombia – but was sent back both times. On arriving in Kuala Lumpur from Colombia he realised that if he passed through immigration he would be arrested and deported because Malaysia does not recognise the rights of refugees. So he decided to stay in the arrivals lounge where he’s been ever since.
There are no restaurants in the lounge and Al-Kantor survives by bribing cleaners to bring him food from McDonald’s and Starbucks. He has supporters around the world who have offered him assistance and raised money towards his fight but they are mostly online so in the airport he’s very much alone.
In addition to marriage proposals he’s had offers for speaking engagements, book deals and documentary films, but Al-Kontar has turned these down. He waits, as he told vice.com, for a time when he “can have my coffee, take a nice shower, go to my work, meet a new group of friends, meet a lady, invite her for dinner, just live and be safe”.
Until then the Terminal Man remains very much in the terminal, occasionally keeping his spirits up by posting a blackly humorous post or two for his legions of social media followers.