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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Terminal boredom of Lebanese man stranded in Ecuador airport for 42 days

Officials in Beirut only became aware of Hussein Shalak’s difficulties after media reports

This photo provided by Diario El Universo on June 11, 2018 shows Lebanese citizen Nizam Hussein Shalak resting on a bench inside the terminal at the Jose Joaquin de Olmedo Airport in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Diario El Universo via AP
This photo provided by Diario El Universo on June 11, 2018 shows Lebanese citizen Nizam Hussein Shalak resting on a bench inside the terminal at the Jose Joaquin de Olmedo Airport in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Diario El Universo via AP

The Lebanese government will begin looking into the case of a national stranded at immigration in an Ecuadorian airport for the past 42 days, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry in Beirut said.

Nizam Hussein Shalak, 56, who does not speak Spanish, has been in limbo at the international terminal of the Jose Joaquin de Olmedo airport in Guayaquil after losing his passport and being returned there from Spain.

Mr Shalak’s plight was reported on by Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo on Tuesday.

“The ministry is seeing what they can do for him,” the Lebanese foreign ministry spokeswoman told The National, adding that they had learned of Mr Shalak’s plight from the press. “It doesn’t seem anyone from his family has tried to contact the ministry,” she said.

Lebanese officials in Ecuador also appeared to be unaware of Mr Shalak’s difficulty.

"The only legal body to issue a travel document is the Lebanese consulate in Bogota," which has not responded to requests that it do so, a foreign ministry source in Ecuador told AFP. "We are closely following the case and are working … to get Lebanon to issue him a travel document so he can return to his country."

Karam Doumet, the consul general at Ecuador’s embassy in Lebanon, told The National on Tuesday that he had also only learned of Mr Shalak’s plight after media reports and that it was the job of Lebanon’s foreign ministry to assist the man.

Mr Shalak visited Guayaquil two months ago and stopped on the way back to Lebanon in Lima, Peru, and Barcelona, Spain, where he was detained after losing his passport as well as his credit cards, El Universo newspaper reported.

He had been in Lima for 11 days and Barcelona for 10 before being returned to Guayaquil, where he had to make a makeshift a bed on the seats of the terminal says El Universo.

"He eats with the coupons that the airline... gives him from time to time" and showers "every three or four days, when they take him to a bathroom in another part of the terminal," the El Universo said.

The Ecuadorian foreign ministry source said that while Mr Shalak left with a passport, he did not have one upon his return and could not pass immigration.

The report in El Universo suggested the man may have been trying to claim protection in Spain and lost his documents in a bid to bolster his application. The National could not confirm the claim.

The situation resembles that of an Iranian refugee who lived in a Paris airport from 1988 to 2006 and was portrayed in the film "The Terminal" starring Tom Hanks.

At least one Syrian man is also currently a resident of an international airport.

Hassan Kontar, 37, has been living in Kuala Lumpur airport since March. Mr Kontar, who says he is a pacifist and refuses to fight for any side in his country’s civil war, had been living and working in the UAE until 2017, when he was unable to renew his visa there.

UAE deported Mr Kontar to Malaysia because the country allows Syrians to enter without previously receiving a visa. However, he has been blocked from renewing his three-month visa.