How Canada's Refugee System Works

On the 4th of June 1969, Canada signed the 1951 Convention  pertaining to the status of refugees, 18 years after it was adopted by the United Nations. Since then, Canada has forged quite a reputation as being a leader in refugee resettlement. Unlike economic immigrants, refugees did not make a conscious choice to leave their country to seek a better life elsewhere. They fled their country because they are at risk of, or have experienced persecution. Their concerns are of human rights and safety, not of economic benefits. They were forced to run away with no way of going back home. 

Of those who were forced to flee, some are able to apply to  United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from their first country of asylum to come to Canada as a sponsored refugee, or to be sponsored as a privately sponsored refugee. We will explore the different refugee streams. Canada’s refugee and asylum system is a strict process with certain criteria and circumstance to be met in order to be eligible. A person has to be referred to come to Canada as a refugee. There are two ways that a person can be referred: either through the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or through a private sponsorship group. 

Refugee Streams 

Convention Refugee Abroad Class

The word convention refers to an individual defined in the 1951 convention as someone who has well-founded fears that if they return to their country of origin, they will suffer persecution. A person may qualify for this stream if they:

  • Fear persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, and political opinion 

  • Are  overseas

  • Are outside of their home country and are unable or indisposed out of fear to obtain protection from their homeland

  • Have no country of nationality, are outside their country of former habitual residence (home country) and unable or, because of fear, unwilling to return to that country 

However, they need to be sponsored to be able to come to Canada. They can either be sponsored by the Canadian government (government-assisted refugees), a group of people or organization (privately sponsored refugees) or a mix of both (through the Blended Visa Office-Referred Program). A person can also be a convention refugee even if they have the funds to support themselves and their family when they land in Canada. Yet, they still need the UNHCR, a referral organization, or a private sponsorship group to refer them.

Country Of Asylum Class (Humanitarian-Protected Persons Abroad) 

The Country Of Asylum Class is for those who do not qualify as a Convention Refugee Abroad Class. A person can be eligible for the Country Of Asylum Class if they are: 

  • Seriously and personally affected by civil or armed conflict or massive violation of human rights in their country of origin. Human rights entail to the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom from enslavement or servitude, protection from imprisonment for debt,  freedom from retroactive penal laws, the right to recognition as a person before the law, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion. 

  • Overseas 

  • Out of their home country and unable to because of fear or inability to receive protection from their country 

  • Have no country of nationality, are outside their home country, and unable to or because of fear, unwilling to return to their country 

Once someone qualifies for one of these streams, the burden of proof is on them they must prove that they cannot find any durable solution. The following solutions are deemed durable solutions by the Canadian Government: 

  • Voluntary repatriation because the situation in the home country has changed in a lasting and meaningful way that enables the refugee to return safely

  • Is able to integrate the country of refuge or the country of first asylum 

  • Has another offer of resettlement from a country other than Canada 

Once they have proved that they do not have any durable solution, then they have to pass the medical test and go through the criminality checks.  In addition to being assessed on the following criteria:

  • Does he/she has relatives/sponsor in Canada

  • His/her ability to speak or learnFrench or English 

Once the refugee is granted access to Canada, the refugee will need help to settle. This is where a settlement plan and service agencies intervene to ensure their smooth transition in Canadian society.