CBC As It Happens with Hassan Al Kontar

Hassan Al Kontar, the Man at the Airport, was featured on CBC Radio’s “As It Happens” with Carol Off.

He spent 7 months living in an airport, until Canada took him in. Now he’s written a book about it

When the world’s eyes were on Hassan Al Kontar, it was a group of Canadians who brought him to safety.

Coffee has been a lifeline for Hassan Al Kontar since the war broke out in Syria.

The former refugee spent seven months living in legal limbo at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport in 2018, and two more in immigration detention, before finding asylum in Canada.

During that time, he was always on the hunt for his next cup of coffee. Sometimes a kind traveller would recognize him from the news and buy him a fresh cup. Once, someone hooked him up with a can of instant coffee, which he’d mix with water from the airport’s fountains.

“It’s not the cup itself; it’s what it’s representing. Those who dance on the edge of life and play with death on a daily basis, they love life the most and they find excitement and joy in the smallest thing in life, because it has been taken away from them. The smallest things become their hint of being normal people and free people,” Al Kontar told As It Happens host Carol Off. “That’s what coffee is for.”

In his new memoir, Man at the Airport: How Social Media Saved My Life – One Syrian’s Story, Al Kontar describes his nine-month journey — from the moment he was barred from boarding a flight out of Malaysia to the day he finally arrived in Vancouver, greeted by the Canadian volunteers who made it happen.

“That’s why my story is not only the Syrian war story. It’s also [about] a country called Canada and people called Canadians,” he said. “Because of them, I am now permanently safe.”

Listen to the broadcast on CBC Radio.