Human rights defenders protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of people around the world.
Human rights defenders are increasingly at risk. That is why this Government has created a new refugee stream dedicated to their protection.
Canada is the first country to offer dedicated resettlement spaces to human rights defenders at risk. This year, we have added 250 spaces to our Immigration Levels Plan.
The new stream for human rights defenders at risk will allow up to 250 people each year, including family members, to be resettled as government-assisted refugees.
The human rights defender stream will allow organizations with a specific mandate to protect this population to identify cases most in need of protection. This will include a particular focus on people at heightened risk, such as women, LGBTQ2 individuals, and Indigenous peoples.
My Department has designed this new stream in consultation with international experts and Canadian stakeholders. To date, nearly 30 organizations have been engaged, from Canadian groups and expert international non-governmental organizations to United Nations bodies.
Human rights defenders who have fled persecution and are outside their country of origin can currently access Canada’s protection through the Refugee Resettlement Program if they are referred to Canada by the United Nations Refugee Agency or Canadian private sponsors.
Where human rights defenders face an immediate threat to their life, liberty or safety, they may be eligible for expedited resettlement under Canada’s Urgent Protection Program.
My Department has continued to resettle refugees during the pandemic, including those who face urgent protection needs, have family members in Canada, or are otherwise exempt from Canada’s border restriction measures.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and its resettlement partners have implemented measures throughout the resettlement continuum to protect the health and safety of refugees and Canadians by ensuring compliance with Canada’s COVID-19 guidelines. These measures will apply to arriving human rights defenders, like all other refugees.
Human rights defenders located within their home country
As a first step, we are focusing our efforts on human rights defenders who have fled persecution and need a pathway to permanent residence because they are unable to live safely in their current location.
My Department is also exploring new temporary protection options to meet the urgent needs of human rights defenders who are facing immediate risks of serious harm, including those located inside their home countries.
Supporting facts and figures
Between January 1 and April 30, 2021, Canada resettled 59 refugees under the Urgent Protection Program.
In 2020, Canada resettled 115 refugees under the Urgent Protection Program.
Human rights defenders are people who protect or promote human rights. They face persecution for their work at the hands of both state and non-state actors.
Your December 2019 mandate includes a commitment to introduce a dedicated refugee stream to provide safe haven for human rights advocates, journalists and humanitarian workers at risk, with a target of helping resettle as many as 250 people a year.
Canada already resettles human rights defenders through the Refugee Resettlement Program, as referred by the United Nations Refugee Agency or by private sponsors, but the Department has not in the past tracked these cases.
Under the new stream, the Department has engaged international experts on the protection of human rights defenders in order to work alongside the United Nations Refugee Agency to identify the human rights defenders most in need of resettlement.
The first stage of implementation, planned for this June, will assist human rights defender refugees who have fled to another country due to persecution. Cases may begin to be referred immediately following implementation, but arrivals may be delayed due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions.
The input of Canadian and expert international organizations has been critical to ensuring that the new stream best meets the needs of human rights defenders. In line with their recommendations, the new stream will:
Be additional to pre-existing refugee resettlement commitments;
Allow new partners with expertise on human rights defenders to identify those most in need for resettlement;
Provide Canadian organizations with an opportunity to work with international experts to refer cases to Canada and to connect with resettled human rights defenders;
Provide resettled human rights defenders with comprehensive settlement supports, as well as connections with Canadian civil society to help them pursue their work;
Be available to all human rights defenders, regardless of their occupation;
Take into particular account the needs of human rights defenders facing intersectional risks, including women, LGBTQ2, and Indigenous defenders.