12 August 2019
Hassan al-Kontar became known around the world as “the man from the airport” after spending months living in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. He was granted asylum in Canada last year and now hopes to help 200 refugees also in limbo to resettle in a new home.
The 38-year-old first became aware of the issue of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru when some of them contacted him on social media, explaining their situation.
At the time, he was documenting online his own plight – left living for months in a Malaysian airport in 2018 following a series of events that left him stranded when the Syrian war broke out in 2011.
Now in Canada, he has become an advocate on issues pertaining to refugees and settlement.
He is partnering with two Canadian non-profit organisations – Canada Caring Society and Mosaic, who both work in refugee resettlement – to get 200 refugees currently on Manus Island and Nauru to be privately sponsored to come to Canada.
The newly launched endeavour – dubbed Operation Not Forgotten – has been endorsed by the Refugee Council of Australia and Amnesty International.
“We are trying to give hope for the hopeless people,” he told the BBC from his home in British Columbia.
Since 2012, Australia has sent asylum seekers arriving by boat to Manus Island and Nauru under a controversial policy aimed at deterring further arrivals.
Australia’s detention of asylum-seekers on the island of Manus has drawn much criticism.
Canberra has steadfastly ruled out ever letting those people settle in Australia, even those found to be refugees.
The bipartisan policy has been justified as humane because it prevents human trafficking and deaths at sea.
But the UN and others say asylum seekers on the islands have frequently suffered human rights abuses, including sexual and physical assaults. Doctors have also increasingly warned of mental health crises.
Though no longer officially in detention, the asylum seekers are now effectively in indefinite limbo in transit centres – contributing, experts say, to high levels of self-harm.