Syria man ‘stranded at Malaysia airport for weeks’

A Syrian man says he has spent over a month stranded in the transit section of a Malaysian airport, partly as a consequence of his country’s civil war.

Hassan al-Kontar’s plight emerged when he began posting videos of himself at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.

He says he was deported from the UAE to Malaysia in 2016, after losing his work permit when war broke out in Syria.

He says he is unable to enter Malaysia, and that his attempts to reach Cambodia and Ecuador were also in vain.

The airport and Malaysia’s Immigration Department did not immediately respond to journalists’ requests for comment.

Speaking on a call over WhatsApp, a worried and distressed Mr al-Kontar told the BBC that he has “lost count” over the number of days he has spent stuck in limbo.

“I’m desperate for help. I can’t live in this airport any longer, the uncertainty is driving me crazy. It feels like my life hit a new low,” he said, adding that he hadn’t had a proper shower and had run out of clean clothes.

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“I flew to the UAE to find work but because of the conflict, I lost both my work permit and my job there and have been on the run since.”

Mr al-Kontar said he was deported by the UAE to a holding centre in Malaysia in 2017 because “it is one of the very few countries in the world which offers visas upon arrival to Syrians like me”.

He was given a three-month tourist visa and he sought a better solution.

“I decided that I wanted to try to go to Ecuador so 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 said.

He says he also had to pay a fine for “overstaying” and has been “blacklisted” in Malaysia, and that he is now unable to leave the airport and re-enter the country.

At the risk of overstaying his welcome in Malaysia a second time, Mr al-Kontar travelled to Cambodia but was prohibited from entering. “I was deemed illegal in Malaysia so I chose to fly to Cambodia but they confiscated my passport upon arrival,” he explained.

Officials from Cambodian’s immigration ministry told the Phnom Penh Post that Syrians could get visas on arrival but would be turned back if they failed to meet government “requirements”.

“We need to check what their purpose [of their visit] is,” said director Sok Veasna.

Mr al-Kontar said he was sent back to Kuala Lumpur on 7 March, and has been stuck at the airport since.

At the time of writing, Mr al-Kontar told BBC News that airport customer service officials as well as local UN officials had been in touch.

“The authorities here are interviewing me and I have filled out some reports,” he said. But he remains unsure about what will come next.

“I don’t know what to do. I have no-one to advise me on where I can go. I really need help because I believe the worst is yet to come,” he sighed.

He says he originally left Syria in 2006 to avoid military service, going home once to see his family in 2008. He says he is still subject to an arrest warrant there.

“I am a human being and I don’t consider it right to participate in war. It was not my decision,” he said.

“I’m not a killing machine and I don’t want any part in destroying Syria. I don’t want blood on my hands. War is never the solution but unfortunately, even from where I am now, I am paying the price of its actions.”

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement that the refugee agency was “aware of this case” and had “reached out to the individual and the authorities”.

Additional reporting by Woon King Chai in Kuala Lumpur and the BBC’s Andreas Illmer in Singapore.

Syria war: Rebel evacuations from Eastern Ghouta gather pace

Syrian rebel groups have pulled out of more towns in the Eastern Ghouta, as the government tightens it grip on the enclave outside Damascus.

Buses carrying fighters, their families and others left the area late on Saturday, leaving the city of Douma as the last rebel-held stronghold.

The evacuations followed a deal between government forces and a local rebel group, Faylaq al-Rahman.

About 70% of the Eastern Ghouta is now under government control.

Hundreds of people have been killed since Syrian government forces, supported by the Russian military, launched an offensive on the rebel-held territory last month.

In recent weeks, they have cut the Eastern Ghouta into three separate pockets, forcing rebels to negotiate withdrawals.

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    Saturday’s evacuations from the towns of Zamalka, Arbin and Ain Tarma had been due to start in the morning but buses only arrived in the afternoon.

    Footage showed the buses queuing at a crossing point into the enclave before travelling along a route cleared of wreckage and unexploded shells and mines.

    Under the agreement between government forces and Faylaq al-Rahman, some 7,000 people in total will be driven to opposition-held territory in north-western Idlib province.

    On Sunday, residents in Arbin were packing in preparation for more evacuations – although it was unclear when buses would arrive.

    Negotiations with another rebel group, Jaish al-Islam, about the surrender of Douma are understood to be continuing.

    Syrian state TV broadcast pictures of troops moving into towns abandoned by rebels, highlighting trenches and other fortifications left behind.

    It also showed prisoners released by the rebels being loaded into minibuses.

    Another deal struck last week saw thousands of people evacuated from the town of Harasta on Friday.

    The rebels in the Eastern Ghouta encompass multiple factions, including jihadists, and in-fighting between them has led to losses of ground to the Syrian government.

    Jaish al-Islam and its rival Faylaq al-Rahman are the largest groups.

    The Eastern Ghouta is so close to Damascus that rebels have been able to fire mortars into the heart of the capital, leading to scores of civilian deaths.

    Rebel rocket fire reportedly killed a young Syrian footballer and wounded seven others as they were training in Damascus on Saturday.