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Refugee Programs of Canada: Overview

A refugee is somebody who has run away from their country of citizenship or country of residence due to a threat to their life or fear and danger to their life. The threat or fear must be real to the person making a refugee claim (well-founded fear of prosecution) and it is the refugee's responsibility to prove that the threat is real and imminent at the time the refugee case is filed. In other words, the danger to their life must be current. This person is not able to return home and they have seen and experienced many horrors.


An immigrant chooses to relocate to another country. On the other hand, a refugee is forced to run away or flee to another country. Often refugees are not able to sell off their property or assets and are forced to go into hiding in order to avoid persecution.


The Canadian refugee system has two main parts:

1. The Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program, for people who need protection from outside Canada and

2. The In-Canada Asylum Program for people making refugee protection claims from within Canada


Pursuant to the first Program, the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program, refugees are identified overseas by international organizations such as the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), along with private sponsors for resettlement. A person cannot apply directly to Canada for resettlement. One way is to apply for resettlement as a sponsored refugee. This type of refugee is sponsored by Canadians and permanent residents of Canada (Group of 5 or G5). The main point of the sponsorship is that the sponsors, as opposed to the Canadian government, become the source of financial support for the refugee and/or their family in the first year of their stay in Canada. The sponsors must qualify financially and must be willing to allocate their personal funds in order to help pay for the needs of the refugee until they get established and become financially independent. If you have family or friends living in Canada, this may be a good option for you.


Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR), persons who may qualify as refugees for Canada’s refugee and humanitarian resettlement program are grouped into 2 “classes”: Convention Refugees Abroad and Country of Asylum which may be defined as follows:


Convention refugee: Any person who by reason of a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion:

+ is outside each of their countries of nationality and is unable or, by reason of that fear, unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of each of those countries, or

+ does not have a country of nationality and is outside the country of their former habitual residence and is unable or, by reason of that fear, unwilling to return to that country; and

+ is outside Canada,

+ is seeking resettlement in Canada

+ and does not have a prospect of another durable solution, within a reasonable period of time, that is:

- cannot return to their country of nationality or habitual residence

- cannot integrate in the country of refuge or the country of first asylum; and

- does not have another offer of resettlement from a country other than Canada.


A member of the Country of Asylum class is any person:

+ who is outside all of their countries of nationality or habitual residence

+ who has been, and continues to be, seriously and personally affected by civil war, armed conflict or massive violation of human rights in each of those countries

+ and does not have a prospect of another durable solution, within a reasonable period of time, that is:

- cannot return to their countries of nationality or habitual residence

- cannot integrate in the country of refuge or the country of first asylum; and

- does not have another offer of resettlement from a country other than Canada


Instead of the IRB as inside Canada, an officer at an overseas IRCC office makes the final determination on whether someone meets one of these definitions and is, therefore, eligible for resettlement. The eligibility decision is normally based on an interview with the applicant, supporting documentation and financials of the sponsoring group and additional information available to the officer (such as updates to the country conditions).


The second Program is for people who have managed to arrive at the Canadian border and/or are inside Canada with a reasonable fear of persecution or risk to their life if they were returned to their country of residence or country of citizenship. Some arrive via tourist visas and other temporary visas such as work and student visas. Recently, there have been many who crossed over from the US through unofficial border entries. This particular 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


If you feel you could face risk such as torture, danger to life, cruel and unusual treatment, if you go back to your home country or the country where you normally live, you may be able to seek protection in Canada as a refugee.


Refugees inside Canada must meet one of the following two definitions in order to make a claim in addition to other bars from claiming protection:


Convention refugees are outside their home country or the country they normally live in. They’re not able to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on

+ race

+ religion

+ political opinion

+ nationality

+ being part of a social group, such as women or people of a particular sexual orientation


A person in need of protection is a person in Canada who can’t return to their home country safely. This is because, if they return, they may face

+ danger of torture

+ risk to their life

+ risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment


Your refugee claim may not be eligible to be referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) inside Canada if you are inadmissible for serious criminality or security reasons. If you made a previous refugee claim which was rejected or withdrew a refugee claim. If you participated in the ill treatment of prisoners.


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