Canada: A History of Refuge – A timeline

Refugee milestones in Canada over the last 200 years

1776: 3,000 Black Loyalists, among them freemen and slaves, fled the oppression of the American Revolution and came to Canada.

1781: Butler’s Rangers, a military unit loyal to the Crown and based at Fort Niagara, settled some of the first Loyalist refugees from the United States in the Niagara peninsula, along the northern shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

1783: Sir Guy Carleton, Governor of the British Province of Quebec, and later to become Lord Dorchester, safely transported 35,000 Loyalist refugees from New York to Nova Scotia. Some settled in Quebec, and others in Kingston and Adolphustown in Ontario.

1789: Lord Dorchester, Governor-in-Chief of British North America, gave official recognition to the “First Loyalists” – those loyal to the Crown who fled the oppression of the American Revolution to settle in Nova Scotia and Quebec.

1793: Upper Canada became the first province in the British Empire to abolish slavery. In turn, over the course of the 19th century, thousands of black slaves escaped from the United States and came to Canada with the aid of the Underground Railroad, a Christian anti-slavery network.

Late 1700s: Scots Highlanders, refugees of the Highland Clearances during the modernization of Scotland, settled in Canada.

1830: Polish refugees fled to Canada to escape Russian oppression. The year 1858 marked the first significant mass migration of Poles escaping Prussian occupation in northern Poland.

1880-1914: Italians escaped the ravages of Italy’s unification as farmers were driven off their land as a result of the new Italian state reforms.

1880-1914: Thousands of persecuted Jews, fleeing pogroms in the Pale of Settlement, sought refuge in Canada.

1891: The migration of 170,000 Ukrainians began, mainly to flee oppression from areas under Austro-Hungarian rule, marking the first wave of Ukrainians seeking refuge in Canada.

1920-1939: The second wave of Ukrainians fled from Communism, civil war and Soviet occupation.

1945-1952: The third wave of Ukrainians fled Communist rule.

1947-1952: 250,000 displaced persons (DPs) from Central and Eastern Europe came to Canada, victims of both National Socialism (Nazism) and Communism, and Soviet occupation.

1950s: Canada admitted Palestinian Arabs, driven from their homeland by the Israeli-Arab war of 1948.

1950s-1970s: A significant influx of Middle Eastern and North African Jews fled to Canada.

1951: The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was created.

1956: 37,000 Hungarians escaped Soviet tyranny and found refuge in Canada.

1960: Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, whose grandfather was a German refugee of the Napoleonic Wars, introduced Canada’s first Bill of Rights.

1960s: Chinese refugees fled the Communist violence of the Cultural Revolution.

1968-1969: 11,000 Czech refugees fled the Soviet and Warsaw Pact Communist invasion.

1969: Canada signed the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and its Protocol, agreeing not to return a person to their country of origin if that person had grounds to fear persecution.

1970s: 7,000 Chilean and other Latin American refugees were allowed to stay in Canada after the violent overthrow of Salvador Allende’s government in 1973.

1970-1990: Deprived of political and religious freedom, 20,000 Soviet Jews settled in Canada.

1971: After decades of being denied adequate political representation in the central Pakistani government, thousands of Bengali Muslims came to Canada at the outbreak of the Bangladesh Liberation War.

1971-1972: Canada admitted some 228 Tibetans. These refugees, along with their fellow countrymen, were fleeing their homeland after China occupied it in 1959.

1972-1973: Following Idi Amin’s expulsion of Ugandan Asians, 7,000 Ismaili Muslims fled and were brought to Canada.

1978: Coming into force of the Immigration Act of 1976, which recognized refugees as a distinct class of immigrants. These changes also allowed Canadian citizens to privately sponsor refugees.

1979: Iranian refugees fled Iran following the overthrow of the Shah and the imposition of an Islamic Fundamentalist regime.

1979 -1980: More than 60,000 Boat People found refuge in Canada after the Communist victory in the Vietnam War.

1980s: Khmer Cambodians, victims of the Communist regime and the aftershocks of Communist victory in the Vietnam War, fled to Canada.

1982: The Constitution of Canada was amended to entrench the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

1985: Singh decision at the Supreme Court of Canada whereby rights under the Charter were extended to asylum seekers; led to the creation of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB).

1986: The United Nations awarded Canada the Nansen Medal for its outstanding humanitarian tradition of settling refugees.

1989: The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada and new refugee determination system began work on January 1, 1989.

1990s: By the 1990s, asylum seekers came to Canada from all over the world, particularly Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa.

1992: 5,000 Bosnian Muslims were admitted to Canada to escape the ethnic cleansing in the Yugoslav Civil War.

1999: Canada airlifted more than 5,000 Kosovars, most of whom were Muslim, to safety.

2002: Immigration and Refugee Protection Act came into force and set out main principles and features of the refugee protection program.

2004: The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States is established for responsibility sharing in processing refugee claims from nationals of third countries.

2006: Canada resettled over 3,900 Karen refugees from refugee camps in Thailand.

2008: Canada began the process of resettling more than 5,000 Bhutanese refugees over five years.

2010: Refugees from more than 140 countries were either resettled or were granted asylum in Canada.

2011: Canada expands its refugee resettlement programs by 20% over three years.

2012: Significant reforms were made to the asylum determination system under the Balanced Refugee Reform Act (BRRA) and the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act (PCISA), including implementing the Refugee Appeal Division at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

2015: Close to 6,600 Bhutanese refugees arrived in Canada. Canada completes a seven-year commitment and welcomes more than 23,000 Iraqi refugees. Canada commits to and begins resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees.

2016: Canada resettled a historical number of refugees, welcoming over 46,000 newcomers and completing its commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February.

2017: Canada announces historical increases in multiyear resettled refugee admissions targets, as well as new commitments for resettling refugees from Africa and the Middle-East.

2018: Canada resettled more than 1,300 survivors of Daesh in 2017 and 2018.

You can make a difference and help refugees settle in Canada by volunteering your time or expertise and by donating.

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