“Talking to students is so important to me because they’re the future, they’re the hope,” said Hassan Al Kontar, a former Syrian refugee, as he spoke at assembly to Trafalgar Castle School students from his home in Fort St. John, British Columbia.
Before being granted asylum in Canada in 2018, Al Kontar spent seven months in Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport and two months in immigration detention, fleeing the war in Syria.
“People were judging me because of my nationality,” said Al Kontar. “There was no country that would welcome me or accept me and that’s why I found myself trapped at the airport.”
Al Kontar had been banned from boarding a flight out of Malaysia and knew if he went home he would either disappear or be conscripted to fight for the Syrian regime.
“That wasn’t a choice for me,” Al Kontar said. “So, in that darkest and lowest moment of my life I decided not to give up, to tell my story, and use social media in a good way to educate.”
While living in the airport, Al Kontar started sharing his experience online through his phone. “People I never met supported me on social media and because of these ordinary people I all of a sudden went from being powerless to powerful and I got a voice,” he said.
A group of Canadians heard Al Kontar’s story and sponsored him as a refugee in Canada. “When I needed help the most, I asked for it and there’s no shame in that,” he added.
Al Kontar is now a permanent resident of Canada and works with the Red Cross to help other refugees. “We are all human beings and all lives matter,” Al Kontar said. “Here in Canada, we are very fortunate, and I’m so lucky. We have values, freedom, and judicial independence that they don’t have in other parts of the world.”
Al Kontar inspired Trafalgar students to get involved in humanitarian issues and to learn more about the refugee crisis. “I hope you can lead the change because my generation is trying but we’re failing so we’re depending on you,” he said.
He also encouraged students to make the effort to meet and befriend refugees. “Ask them questions about their traditions, how they live their lives, what their dreams are – you’ll find they’re very similar to you,” said Al Kontar.