When the war in Syria started, Hassan al-Kontar knew he couldn't go back. Kontar had been working in the United Arab Emirates since 2006. He had left his home to avoid conscription in the Syrian army.
“I am a human being, and I don't consider it right to participate in war,” he told BBC. “I'm not a killing machine, and I don't want any part in destroying Syria.”
But in 2016, Kontar lost his work permit and his job. UAE officials expelled him.
In January 2017, he was sent to Malaysia, one of the few countries willing to grant Syrians visas on arrival. He was given a three-month tourist visa.
It was enough time, Kontar figured, to come up with a new plan.
He began working, saving up enough money for a ticket to Ecuador. But to do so, he would have to violate his tourist visa.
Once he had enough money, he bought passage on a flight to Ecuador, but when he tried to board his flight, he was turned away by Turkish Airways.
“For some reason, they did not allow me on the flight, and I was back at square one,” he told BBC.
He then flew to Cambodia but was turned away at the Phnom Penh airport. (Cambodian officials told the Phnom Penh Post that Syrians can get visas on arrival but will be turned back if they don't meet certain “requirements.”)
So he returned, once again, to Malaysia. But because he had overstayed his last tourist visa, he could not get a new one to enter the country.
He has been trapped in the transit section of Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 for 37 days.
He does not have a place to shower or even a fresh set of clothes. He has been sleeping under stairwells and cleaning up in bathrooms. For food, he lives off prepackaged airline rice and chicken meals. As a treat, he will sometimes go to McDonald's or buy a coffee. But he has very little money for treats these days.
In an interview with the BBC, Kontar said he has “lost count” of how many days he has been in Malaysia.
“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 told the broadcaster.
Kontar told the BBC that he has spoken with airport officials and the United Nations. Human Rights Watch has gotten involved. (Malaysia's Immigration Department has not commented publicly on Kontar's case.) He has been interviewed, he said, and filled out some paperwork. But he does not know whether that will lead to anything.
“I don't know what to do. I have no one to advise me on where I can go,” he told the BBC. “I really need help, because I believe the worst is yet to come.”
He is not the first Syrian refugee to be trapped in an airport. As the Guardian put it, “There have been similar stories in the past of Syrians and Palestinian refugees from Syria being stranded in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Istanbul since the war started.”
“It's not only my problem. It’s the problem of hundreds of Syrian guys who feel they are hated, rejected, unwanted, weak, lonely,” Kontar told the Guardian. “I don’t know what to say or what to do. I need a solution. I need a safe place where I can be legally, with work.”