Area of Law: Immigration Law
Answer # 671
Who qualifies as a refugee in Canada?Region: Ontario Answer # 671
Foreign nationals, who fear persecution, who are at serious risk of harm and who cannot get protection in their own country often seek refuge in Canada. People who are recognized as refugees are allowed to stay in Canada and may apply for permanent residence status, and eventually may apply to become Canadian citizens. The Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) is an independent tribunal that will make a determination as to whether the applicant will receive refugee status. In some cases, such as those involving criminality or security issues, the decision is made by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
There are two general types of refugees: Persons in Need of Protection and Convention Refugees. However, those in refugee-like situations who do not qualify under either of these groups, may still qualify for protection under the Country of Asylum Class.
1. Persons in Need of Protection
A Person in Need of Protection is a person in Canada who, if removed to their home country or country where they normally live would be personally subjected to:
• a risk to their life,
• a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment if:
- they are not able to get protection from their own government,
- the person would face the risk in all parts of the country, even though the risk is not faced generally by others in or from that country,
- the risk is not part of legal penalties (unless those penalties violate international standards), and the risk is not caused by inadequate health or medical care.
2. Convention Refugee
Convention Refugees are people who are living outside their national country and, because of fear of persecution, cannot be protected within their country or return to it. That fear of persecution must be well-founded and based on their:
- political opinion, or
- their membership in a particular social group (including groups that the person cannot change, such as gender, sexual orientation, past memberships, or groups they choose to join).
Persecution is defined to include such things as death threats, torture, or imprisonment by the government, guerrillas, or other non-government agents such as an abusive husband. A person making a refugee claim must also show that there is no internal flight alternative. This means that there is no place in their country that they could get to and live safely, free from the persecution that they are facing.
Any person who feels they are a Person in Need of Protection or a Convention Refugee, may make a claim for protection when they enter or once they are inside Canada. If the person is outside of Canada, they can make an application under the Convention Refugee Abroad Class. IRCC relies on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), other referral organizations and private sponsoring groups to identify and refer refugees for resettlement in this Class. The visa offices evaluate the referred applications and determine whether the claimant meets the requirements of being a refugee, and if the person will be admitted to Canada.
3. Country of Asylum Class
The Country of Asylum Class is for people who are outside of Canada and in refugee-like situations but who do not qualify as Convention Refugees. A person is considered to be a member of the Country of Asylum Class if an Immigration Officer determines that they have been, and continue to be, seriously and personally affected by:
- civil war,
- armed conflict, or
- massive violation of human rights.
Those who cannot find an adequate solution to such a situation within a reasonable time can apply for refugee status in Canada. Refugees in this Class must also be referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or another referral organization, be sponsored by a private sponsorship group, or have the funds needed to support themselves and their dependents after they arrive in Canada. As with Convention Refugee claimants, a person making a claim under the Country of Asylum Class must also show that there is no internal flight alternative. This means that there is no place in their country that they could get to and live safely, free from the persecution that they are facing.
Repeal of the Source Country Class
Until 2011, refugees were also able to enter Canada under the Source Country Class, which was for people who resided in a home country that had been designated as a source country. Countries listed as source countries were Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, and Sierra Leone. These refugees must have been suffering from civil war or armed conflict, and be suffering from serious deprivation of their right to freedom of expression or legitimate exercise of their civil rights pertaining to dissent or trade union activity, or be facing detention or imprisonment as a consequence. They must also have feared persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group or political opinion in their home country.
Refugees may no longer apply to enter Canada in this Class, however, unless a Source Country application has already passed the selection decision stage, existing Source Country applications are now being screened for eligibility under both of the Convention Refugees Abroad and Country of Asylum Classes.
Temporary changes due to COVID-19
Due to the current pandemic, the Government of Canada has implemented temporary changes to various immigration programs and procedures. For the most up-to-date information, visit canada.ca.
If you would like to apply for refugee status, you can obtain more information by contacting Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. To find foreign consulates and embassies in your province, click here.
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