How Canada’s refugee system works

Refugees are people who have fled their countries because of a well-founded fear of persecution. They are not able to return home. They have seen or experienced many horrors.

A refugee is different from an immigrant. An immigrant is a person who chooses to settle permanently in another country. Refugees are forced to flee.

What happens when a refugee arrives in Canada

Canadian refugee protection programs

The Canadian refugee system has two main parts:

  • the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program, for people who need protection from outside Canada and
  • the In-Canada Asylum Program for people making refugee protection claims from within Canada

Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program

Refugees who come to Canada have left their homes, and in many cases, they have lived in refugee camps for many years. When they arrive in Canada, they have to start their lives over again.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), along with private sponsors, identifies refugees for resettlement. A person cannot apply directly to Canada for resettlement. After they are identified, it takes time to process the cases.

Private sponsors across the country also help resettle refugees to Canada. Some do this on an ongoing basis. They have signed sponsorship agreements with the Government of Canada to help support refugees. These groups are known as Sponsorship Agreement Holders.

Sponsorship Agreement Holders can sponsor refugees themselves, or work with others in the community to do so.

Other sponsors, known as Groups of Five and Community Sponsors, are people or groups in the community who have come together to sponsor refugee(s). They do not generally sponsor refugees on an ongoing basis.

The Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program matches refugees identified by the UNHCR with private sponsors in Canada.

Under our laws, we must carefully screen all resettlement cases. This makes sure that there are no issues related to security, criminality, or health. We work with our security partners to complete this work as quickly as possible.

In-Canada Asylum Program

The asylum program works to provide refugee protection to people in Canada who:

  • have a well-founded fear of persecution or
  • are at risk of torture, or cruel or unusual punishment in their home countries

Not everyone is eligible to seek asylum. For example, people are not eligible to make a claim if they have:

  • been convicted of serious criminal offences or
  • had previous refugee claims denied by Canada.

Refugee Appeal Division

The Refugee Appeal Division gives people whose refugee claims were rejected a chance to prove that the decision was wrong and introduce new evidence.

Not all claimants are eligible to make an appeal.

Integration services

Refugees often need help to settle. This is true whether they are resettled from overseas or granted protection in Canada. The Government of Canada works with many partners and stakeholders to provide many types settlement services. These services help refugees adjust to life in Canada.

Help finding where refugees will live in Canada

We work closely with offices abroad to learn about the background and unique needs of government-assisted refugees coming to Canada.

We decide which city will best suit each refugee's needs, based on things like:

  • the language they speak
  • where family and friends live in Canada
  • ethnic, cultural and religious communities in the area
  • medical needs
  • availability of settlement services

Protecting children from abuse and exploitation

Children who are not in the care of a parent and come to Canada as refugees can be vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. The Guardianship Protocol sets out procedures our officers must follow in these situations.

Help for resettled refugees

Under the Resettlement Assistance Program, the Government of Canada or Province of Quebec helps government-assisted refugees with essential services and income support once they are in Canada. This helps them to settle.

The refugee gets this income support for up to one year or until they can support themselves, whichever comes first. Canada provides Resettlement Assistance Program income support to eligible clients who cannot pay for their own basic needs.

Basic social assistance rates in each province and territory help guide the amount of money refugees get for shelter, food and other things.

The Resettlement Assistance Program also provides these services during the first four to six weeks after clients get to Canada:

  • welcoming them at the airport or other port of entry
  • helping to find a temporary place to live
  • helping to find a permanent place to live
  • assessing their needs
  • information and help getting to know Canada, and
  • referrals to other federal and provincial programs, and to other settlement services.

Private sponsors must provide financial and emotional support to any refugees they sponsor:

  • for the length of the sponsorship period, or
  • until the refugee can support themselves, if this happens during that period

The sponsor’s support includes help with housing, clothing and food. Most sponsorships last for one year, but some refugees may be able to get help from their sponsors for up to three years.

Blended visa office-referred refugees get six months of Resettlement Assistance Program income support. Private sponsors give up to six months of financial support and up to a year of social and emotional support.

Help for all newcomers, including refugees

We also fund a settlement program that helps newcomers settle and adapt to life in Canada. To deliver these services, we work with:

  • provinces and territories
  • service provider organizations, and
  • other partners and stakeholders.

These services include helping newcomers:

  • know their settlement needs and link them to services in their community
  • better understand life in Canada and make informed decisions (this includes the Canadian Orientation Abroad program, which is provided overseas and gives general information about life in Canada)
  • get language training in English and French, so they have the skills to live in Canada
  • search for and find jobs
  • build community networks with long-time Canadians and established immigrants, and
  • access support services which help with:
    • childcare
    • using transportation
    • finding translation and interpretation services
    • finding resources for people with disabilities, and
    • accessing short-term/crisis counselling if needed.

Access to settlement services continues until individuals become Canadian citizens.

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