09/09/2015 02:57 EDT | Updated 09/09/2016 05:12 EDT

Syrian Seeking Refugee Status In Canada Says He's In Limbo 3 Years After Arriving

Hussein Rahim thought his ordeal was over when he finally set foot in Toronto in 2012.

TORONTO — Hussein Rahim had already lost his cousin and uncle — one shot dead, the other missing — when he was arrested by military forces during a protest in his native Syria.

His family paid thousands of dollars for his release, but fear of being detained again as the unrest turned to armed conflict prompted him to seek asylum in Canada, he said in a recent interview.

"I left the country because God knows what was going to happen if I stayed there," he said.

Rahim thought his ordeal was over when he finally set foot in Toronto's Pearson International Airport in 2012, carrying a Greek passport he'd purchased in Turkey.

But three years later, the 35-year-old said he remains in limbo, his case unheard and his fate uncertain.

Worldwide attention has focused on the plight of Syrian refugees fleeing the war-torn country. Some have family members living abroad who are trying to sponsor from afar; others, like Rahim, take matters into their own hands. Either way is a difficult process.

Detained on arrival in Toronto for more than three weeks, Rahim said he was seen and freed by officials only after threatening to go on hunger strike.

But he has yet to be granted a hearing on his application, or even on an interim petition that would allow him to visit his ailing mother in Turkey, he said.

With no hearing scheduled, Rahim said he can't leave the country without invalidating his claim.

"They don't want to give me a hearing," said Rahim, adding he has sent emails to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and Prime Minister Stephen Harper seeking their help.

"They (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) say they don't have enough judges."

Meanwhile, the documents he was given on arrival expire in 2017. Rahim worries his case won't be heard before then.

Two of his friends who also arrived in 2012 to claim refugee status are facing the same red tape and roadblocks, he added.

A spokesman for the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada said the department will continue to hear claims made before Dec. 15, 2012 — when specific time limits were set for processing refugee protection claims.

"The number of such pending claims has been reduced from over 32,000 in December 2012 to 8,000 as of March 1, 2015," Robert Gervais said in an email. He said the "bulk of the legacy inventory" remains in Toronto and Montreal.

The IRB will bring on more people to finalize the claims made before Dec. 15, 2012, he added.

Rahim said he was drawn to Canada for its humanitarian reputation, but the government's handling of his case and those of other Syrian refugees has soured him.

"I don't feel I'm being treated like a human in Canada," he said. "I don't think they want to help anybody."

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