PETALING JAYA: A human rights group has criticised the Immigration Department for arresting a Syrian man stranded at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and its plans to deport him home instead of treating him as an asylum seeker.
Speaking to FMT, Lawyers for Liberty executive director Latheefa Koya said although Malaysia had not ratified the United Nations Convention on Refugees, it must honour the non-refoulement principle in not deporting Hassan al-Kontar to Syria.
The non-refoulement principle forbids governments from deporting people to places where they risk persecution, torture or inhumane punishment.
Kontar was arrested by the authorities after being stranded at KLIA for seven months since March 7, when he was barred from boarding a flight to Ecuador.
Kontar is said to be wanted by Syrian authorities for refusing to join mandatory military service as he didn’t want to be part of the civil war raging in the country. The former salesman previously worked in the UAE but was deported to Malaysia as his visa was not renewed.
Although he had been applying for refugee status in Canada, Latheefa said Kontar should have sought asylum from Malaysia.
“What is clear is that he is an asylum seeker who shouldn’t be deported. We urge the foreign ministry and home ministry to release him and facilitate his efforts to leave the country.
“Speak to the Canadian High Commission and try to resolve the issue. He’s running away to protect his life, not because he is a fugitive on the run.”
Latheefa said the Immigration Department could not view Kontar as an illegal immigrant, adding that to do so would paint it as insensitive to legal international obligations.
Chandra Muzaffar, an internationally known advocate for human rights, said Malaysia should at the very least develop provisions to help those seeking legitimate refugee status.
He said he, along with other human rights groups, had long called for the government to ratify the United Nations Convention on Refugees.
However, Chandra said it was likely that Kontar would be deported as the Syrian government was still a functioning government and Malaysia couldn’t resist Syria’s demands due to diplomatic ties.
“The law must take its course but we can request that he be treated humanely. This is why we must ratify the UN Convention on Refugees. The status quo cannot remain.”
Yesterday, immigration director-general Mustafar Ali said police had decided to arrest Kontar as his social media posts had embarrassed Malaysia and because he was in a restricted area without a boarding pass.