Refugees in Canada

What is a refugee?

A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee their home country due to war, persecution, or a well-grounded fear of torture, cruel treatment or death in their home country because of who they are. The 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees made ‘refugee’ an international legal term, and by signing this convention, Canada took on the responsibility of recognizing and protecting the people who meet this definition.

In general, there are two types of refugees. Resettled refugees are recognized first by the UNHCR and then brought to Canada with permanent status. They have a clear pathway to permanent residency and citizenship, as long as they fulfill the criteria for these statuses. Resettled refugees may be chosen and supported by the government (Government Assisted Refugees) or by individuals, family members, churches, or NGOs (Privately Sponsored Refugees). Blended-Visa Office Referred program refugees are referred by the UNHCR, and private sponsors and the government share the costs of supporting them.


Credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia

Refugee claimants come to Canada without permanent status and ask to be considered refugees once they are here. These claimants are in such danger that they cannot wait for the United Nations to protect them. Often their lives are at serious risk if they stay in their home country. They must first prove that they meet the legal definition of a refugee before they receive official permission to stay.


The refugee claim process

Refugee claimants must undertake a formal legal process to be accepted in Canada. They make a request for refugee status either at the border upon arrival or at one of the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) offices in Canada. They are then interviewed to determine whether or not they are eligible for the process, and if they are, they will be referred for a hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board. The IRB tries to determine whether there is enough evidence that the person faced persecution in their country of origin and could not find safety there.


Why do refugee claims fail?

Insufficient evidence is a very common reason. People who are fleeing for their lives do not often have the chance to stop and gather documents that describe the persecution they are facing, which becomes a problem when they are trying to prove that their claim is legitimate. Refugee claimants must also prove that they cannot live safely in another part of their home country, and sometimes this is very difficult to do. And finally, many receive bad advice at every stage, from lawyers or other individuals in Canada or abroad whose recommendations lead to their claims being denied.


Myths about refugees

Myth: Refugees are queue-jumpers for the immigration system

Truth: The refugee system and the immigration system are completely different. The refugee process is one whereby Canada recognizes its commitment to international law to protect individuals facing persecution or danger in their home countries. They have often faced severe trauma. Very few come to Canada for economic reasons; those who do are generally refused at the Immigration and Refugee Board level and sent back to their country of origin.

Myth: Refugees either are a ‘drain on the system’ or they ‘take jobs from Canadians’

Truth: Many refugees work as soon as they can once in Canada. Canada recognizes that people with legal status here should be allowed to work, so it issues them work visas. Refugees often do jobs that other Canadians would not want, including the dirtiest, most dangerous, and most poorly paying! Some refugees, however, are not able to work right away – they need to first attend to the things that will help them get started with life in Canada, including learning English or French, getting settled in new homes and communities, and dealing with the medical and psychological outcomes of past trauma. Once they are established, though, refugees are often quite successful in Canada! It is very difficult to start a new life in a new country after everything you’ve known has been uprooted, and the kind of motivation and persistence it requires are useful skills in our society. Refugees have contributed to Canada in politics, sports, literature, music, health, and many other fields – some of our most beloved Canadians came to this country as refugees!