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Former Syrian refugee stuck in an airport for 7 months finds a new side of Canada in B.C.’s north

July 23, 2021

A former Syrian refugee — who achieved a certain amount of international recognition after being stranded in a Malaysian airport for months — says travelling to northern B.C. for a temporary job assignment has broadened his Canadian experience.

Hassan Al Kontar, 40, has been working as an emergency health worker with the Red Cross in Fort St. John since early July — after living 2½ years in the Lower Mainland working with Vancouver’s Red Cross.

Now a Canadian permanent resident, the refugee from Syria’s civil war made international headlines in 2018 when he was stranded in Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport for nearly seven months.

He didn’t have the paperwork to remain in the country, did not want to return to Syria and was not welcome elsewhere — until November 2018 when a sponsor from Whistler, B.C., helped him find asylum in Canada.

Al Kontar says coming to Fort St. John and to help with COVID-19 vaccinations in the small community was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.

“It’s the first time I got this far north and it’s amazing — I drove all the way from Vancouver to Fort St. John,” he told Carolina de Ryk, the host of CBC’s Daybreak North.

“It’s open, wide, flat, green land here in the north, while in Vancouver we have the city — it’s narrow, small streets, the mountains. So different sceneries that’s just beautiful,” he went on.

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