Vancouver Sun newspaper

Tom Sandborn’s review of Man at the Airport
June 25, 2021

Author Hassan Al Kontar bounced around the world, living in airports and jails, seemingly unwanted but for a growing social media presence

Think of them, in Franz Fanon’s phrase, as “The Wretched of the Earth.” They have been driven from their homes by war, persecution, poverty and climate change, and there are currently over 86 million of them suffering around the world.

Many of them are displaced within their own countries, but upwards of 26 million are now outside their natal borders, and half are children.

The agony of Syria has been, since 2014, the world’s largest source of refugees. Hassan Al Kontar, a member of the Druze minority from Sweida, 100 kilometres south of Damascus, was one of those who fled his home to avoid being drawn into or crushed by the nightmare of a bloody civil war. Man @the airport is his remarkable story.

Like many others, Hassan first went to the United Arab Emirates and Dubai to seek work and safety. Foreign workers there, as is so often the case in so many countries, are exploited in an ongoing cycle of precarious work and uncertain status.

After the bureaucratic machinery left him with an expired work permit, Hassan lived homeless in Abu Dhabi until he found himself in an UAE jail for a month.

He soon discovered, as he says wryly, that “being Syrian means that the world is closed to you.”

After traveling to Malaysia, where he discovered the first job he found there was a scam, he tried unsuccessfully to go to Ecuador, and then tried to enter Cambodia, only to be deported back to a Malaysian airport, where he discovered, in a twist worthy of Kafka, that forms he signed on his exit to Cambodia meant that he was banned from re-entering Malaysia.

This led to nearly nine months in bureaucratic limbo, living in the airport and then a Malaysian jail, and developing a presence on social media. Starting from meager beginnings, Hassan gradually found supporters and soon saw items about his dilemma garnering millions of views. Eventually his supporters helped him procure permission to enter Canada as a refugee, where he now works to help other refugees.

His is an important story that should touch the conscience of the world. While not a prose masterpiece, the book provides a moving sense of this remarkable young man and those who rallied to help him. It deserves wide attention. I hope it will awaken more of us to what happens to the displaced.

Highly recommended.