Global human rights defenders stream

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by IRCC staff. It is posted on the department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.


These instructions provide guidance on assessing and tracking applications under the resettlement stream for human rights defenders (HRDs).

HRDs are individuals who promote and protect human rights, including human rights advocates, journalists and humanitarian workers. Facing criminalization, arbitrary arrest and threats, hundreds of HRDs are tortured or assassinated each year.

Under the global HRD stream, IRCC has committed to resettle vulnerable HRDs from around the world, including their family members, through the Government-Assisted Refugees (GAR) program. In 2023, IRCC’s commitment is up to 500 persons.

Key messages: In the global HRD resettlement stream, HRD refugee applicants are identified, assessed and referred by Front Line Defenders (FLD), (PD) or the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). IRCC officers assess applicants under the same eligibility criteria as for other government-assisted refugees and are expected to carefully take into account considerations specific to HRDs.

For more information, consult Policy background – human rights defenders.

On this page

Identifying HRD cases

IRCC currently accepts referrals in the global HRD program from 3 partners: the UNHCR, FLD and PD.

As a long-standing referral partner in this program, the UNHCR is responsible for identifying and preparing a portion of HRD refugee referrals to Canada. In addition to referring clients from its own global caseload, the UNHCR may also consider referring cases from the inventories of FLD and PD.

In March 2023, following the expansion of Canada's HRD stream, IRCC entered into a direct referral relationship with FLD and PD in the global HRD stream. FLD and PD are now able to identify and directly refer a number of HRD refugees from their global caseload to Canada for resettlement.

All referral partners are responsible for gathering information and completing the required application forms. The partners also prepare the referral cover page and supporting documents before submitting the application to the Resettlement Operations Centre in Ottawa (ROC-O) for file creation. The case is then transferred to the appropriate migration office for further processing. Note that the referral partners are responsible for assessing the legitimacy and validity of the client’s status as an HRD. IRCC officers do not, at any point, assess whether the referred client is an HRD or not.

In some locations, IRCC partners such as the International Organization for Migration may help the applicant fill out forms required to support their application for resettlement to Canada.

Tracking global HRD cases

GAR spaces for HRDs (global stream) were first added to the immigration levels plan in 2021 and may vary depending on the year. In 2023, 500 GAR spaces are allocated to cases from the HRD global stream. Admissions of HRDs are included in the spaces allocated to each office under the GAR program; no separate spaces are allocated for HRDs. PD, FLD, the UNHCR and IRCC will collaborate to ensure available GAR program spaces are used effectively. Note that there is currently no yearly mandated minimum number of HRD resettlement spaces. By committing to an HRD “up to” number, rather than a target, IRCC is meeting one of the primary objectives of international HRD protection, which is to help HRDs safely return to their country of origin to pursue their work if they so choose.

The applications for HRDs are centrally tracked and reported by the Operations Planning and Performance Branch.

If officers have proof that a case referred to them is not in fact an HRD, they should consult differently, depending on which organization referred the case:

Interviewing HRDs

Special attention will be paid to the safety of applicants due to the risks that HRDs may continue to face in the country of asylum. Video interviews may be conducted if travelling and attending an in-person interview is not possible or may place the applicant at greater risk. Waiving the interview may also be appropriate.

For more information, consult When and how to interview.

Assessing HRD cases: Eligibility

Applications tagged as HRDs will be assessed according to the same eligibility criteria used in assessing other GAR applications. Officers will not verify whether an applicant meets the HRD definition because this has already been carefully determined by the UNHCR, PD or FLD before the applicant was referred to IRCC.

Officers need only assess whether an HRD applicant is eligible for resettlement. As with other resettlement applications, officers may examine all relevant areas of the claim, including the applicant’s human rights work, if required.

As a result of their human rights work, HRDs may face unique circumstances that officers will need to take into account when assessing eligibility. See below for considerations around durable solutions, and the inability or unwillingness of the HRD to avail themselves of the protection of their country and seek to establish permanent residence in Canada. See also section 96(a) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and paragraph 139(1)(c) of the Regulations.

If a negative decision is made, the migration office notifies the refugee(s) and the UNHCR, PD, or FLD, as the case may be.

For more information on final decisions, consult Resettlement: Final decision.

Durable solutions

A durable solution does not exist when an HRD could safely return to their country of origin or habitual residence but only if they cease their human rights activities. The basis for a safe return cannot be the non-exercise of human rights.

Human rights activities may be tied to particular communities or locations, and the exercise or advocacy of human rights may be contingent upon an HRD’s presence in that community or location. In such cases, a return to a different community would inhibit the HRD’s ability to pursue their human rights work. A durable solution does not exist when the HRD could return to their country but only if they return to a different location from the site of their human rights work.

For more information on how to assess circumstances of an applicant returning to their country of nationality or habitual residence, consult Outside country of nationality or habitual residence.

Inability or unwillingness of the HRD to avail themselves of the protection of their country and seek to establish permanent residence in Canada

HRDs are exceptionally committed to their work and the communities they serve, and they may be reluctant to abandon these. In spite of not benefiting from the protection of their state and having no durable solution, HRDs may be reluctant to verbalize their intention to establish permanent residence in Canada because of their commitment and wish to eventually return to their communities to continue their work.

A reluctance to frame their protection need as permanent may show their commitment to their causes rather than a willingness to avail themselves of the protection of their country.

For more information, consult Resettlement: Eligibility assessment.

Assessing HRD cases: Admissibility

HRDs are often targeted by the authorities of their country of origin or habitual residence for exercising their human rights or advocating for them. They commonly face retaliation through illegitimate criminal convictions that:

The criminalization of human rights activities by persecuting states is not aligned with Canadian and international law. In cases where an HRD has been convicted of an offence, officers should:

Assessing HRDs at risk: Cessation (after arrival in Canada)

When an HRD returns to their country of origin or habitual residence, it should not be assumed that they will avail themselves of the country’s protection. The HRD may use their passport during travel and have a regular presence in their home country for a significant period even while facing persecution in that country and not benefiting from state protection. HRDs have an exceptional commitment to their cause and are therefore often willing to withstand a high level of personal risk to do their work.

Under these circumstances, HRDs must be assessed to confirm whether:

For more information, consult Cessation and vacation in the resettlement context.

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