FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Hassan Al Kontar, who is internationally known as the ‘man at the airport‘, is calling Fort St. John home for two months while working for the Red Cross at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

Al Kontar is a Syrian refugee who was stranded at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia for seven months and has been exiled from Syria since 2011 after he refused to join the military. In 2018, Al Kontar was brought to an immigration jail for two months from the airport and then to Whistler, B.C, after being granted asylum by the Canadian government.

Three years later, Al Kontar has been to several B.C. cities, including Abbotsford, and Victoria, through his work with the Red Cross and started checking experiences off his list.

“This is my first time this far north,” said Hassan Wednesday during a meet and greet hosted by the Fort St. John Multicultural Society.

“I didn’t know there was more north. I thought Canada was north, but, no, there is more north.”

At the top of Al Kontar’s list is visiting an Indigenous community because he feels a special connection with them.

“It’s weird that we are the newest comers to this land, refugees, and they are here since thousands of years. They’re the original owners. But, I cannot start there to start comparing our tragedy with theirs.”

“Refugees have lost loved ones, have been ripped from their homes, exiled from their land and disconnected from their roots, said Al Kontar.

“[Indigenous people] have been through a lot of trauma, and [refugees] did as well, and we are still living on it. I know how they feel,” said Al Kontar during the July 16th edition of Moose Talks.

Al Kontar says he feels sad about what indigenous people have gone through with the several unmarked graves found at former residential school sites and the continued push for reconciliation, action and justice.

“I have been there,” said Al Kontar. “In 2016, I was in detention jail in the United Arab Emirates when I hear that my father passed away.”

“All through the night, I could hear the fireworks and see the lights of it while I was sitting alone and myself, looking at the phone without being able to reach out because of the iron powers. All I wanted is to call my family. I know what it means to be in your darkest and lowest moment in life.”

In the middle east, they’re not known as Indigenous, says Al Kontar, which shows the work that needs to be done.

“I knew that it’s racism when I arrived in Canada. We call them ‘red’. Because of the fact of Hollywood, the whole middle east knows them by ‘red Indians’. When I came to Canada, I knew that this is wrong; we should not call them that. I started educating myself. ”

Believing it will result in growth, he says Canada currently facing its past is a good thing.

“We need to face it, and it’s going to be painful, it’s going to be hard, but it’s the right thing to do because we are living in the present. We are also writing tomorrow’s history, and we are doing a good job so far.”

Al Kontar was in almost every international headline back in 2018 after posting his story to social media while at the Malaysia airport.

Before his time in Malaysia, Al Kontar found himself jobless and homeless in 2011 in the United Arab Emirates, where he had been working for five years prior as an insurance marketing agent.

He had lost his work permit after Syria refused to renew his passport following a civil war breaking out in the country. Eventually being detained in the UAE, Al Kontar fought not to be sent back to Syria and was instead sent to Malaysia.

Al Kontar couldn’t claim refugee status and had tried to go to Ecuador and Cambodia.

The Energetic City will be Al Kontar’s home until August when he receives his next deployment through the Red Cross.

Al Kontar says he is grateful for his new life in Canada.

“It’s not about having the perfect country. Such a country does not exist; it only exists in books. It’s about having values and rights and freedom. You have no idea because you have it, and you take it for granted,’ said Al Kontar on Wednesday.

For those that are tempted to compare Al Kontar’s story to Tom hanks’ character in The Terminal, he says Hank’s had Catherine Zeta Jones, Al Kontar only had himself.