An Ottawa woman is planning to visit civil war-torn Syria to try to see her son after he tried and failed to get a visitor's visa to come to Canada.
Wasim Zeitouni — a Syrian citizen — is in hiding after being called up for service in the Syrian army, according to his mother, Halah Al-Horani, who has permanent resident status in Canada.
Zeitouni refuses to join the army and is afraid he'll be forced to kill innocent people, Al-Horani said.
Syria's civil war has pit the country's people against each other since it began two years ago with protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Syrian activist and United Nations estimates put the casualties from the conflict at between 50,000 and 70,000 people.
Zeitouni is on the run with his wife, who is due to deliver their first child in two months, Al-Horani said. He's applied twice to get to Canada temporarily on a visitor's visa but was turned down both times.
Al-Horani and another son of hers, a minor at the time, immigrated to Canada five years ago. Zeitouni, who was then in university, was told he couldn't come because he was no longer dependent on his mother.
Al-Horani's older daughter came to Canada on a visitor's visa when politics started deteriorating in Syria, and was granted refugee status.
Zeitouni, now 27 years old, started applying for a visitor's visa when the civil war started.
In a rejection document, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said Zeitouni's family connections or past travel history indicated he was likely to overstay his welcome. The document did not go into more detail.
"We will be responsible for him. He will stay with us, and get a work permit and work. He's educated. His wife also, she's an accountant. They won't be a burden to the country, so why not help me?" Al-Horani said.
Syrian-Canadians have been asking for a program to let them sponsor people like Wasim privately, even if just for the duration of the conflict, giving bonds if necessary to cover costs.
"This would not cost the Canadian government anything, because we would be bringing them and taking care of them. But this is blocked," said Faisal Alazem of the Syrian Canadian Council.
In an email statement, Jason Kenney's press secretary wrote that "we can appreciate the anxiety and concern that Canadians have for their friends and family in Syria. Officials are working to process Family Class and Privately Sponsored Refugee applications from Syria as quickly as possible, given the difficult operational environment."
Al-Horani said she quit her job as a junior kindergarten teacher's assistant because she can't focus and she's preparing her trip to see her son.
"Yesterday my friends were asking me and begging me actually not to go because it'll be dangerous for me," Al-Horani said. "Some people say you may go there and you won't see him. I don't care, I only want to try. I only want to see him. I miss him."