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 up to 250 HRDs per year, including their family members, through the Government Assisted Refugee (GAR) Program, beginning in 2021.

Key messages: In the global HRD resettlement stream, refugee applicants, based on their HRD claim, are identified and assessed by Front Line Defenders (FLD), (PD) or the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and then referred to the migration office by the UNHCR. 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.

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Identifying HRD cases

The UNHCR is responsible for preparing HRD refugee referrals to Canada. Canada has also entered into a partnership with FLD and PD to identify HRDs who are most at risk.

FLD and PD will sort and distribute their global caseload, identify those HRDs who are most in need of resettlement, and inform the UNHCR. The UNHCR will then assess if a referral to Canada for resettlement is warranted. The UNHCR may also identify HRD cases in its own caseload.

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

HRD referrals are then sent to the Resettlement Operations Centre in Ottawa (ROC-O) for file creation before being transferred to the migration office for further processing.

Tracking global HRD cases

Up to 250 additional GAR spaces for HRDs (global stream) were added to the Immigration Levels Plan beginning in 2021. 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.

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

If officers encounter a case that has been mistakenly referred to them as an HRD case when it is manifestly not, they should consult the UNHCR for clarification. They may decide it’s appropriate to remove the HRD special program code for the rest of the processing.

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. The UNHCR will notify FLD and PD.

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 when 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:

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