What Does “Refugee” Mean?
It is not as easy to define “refugee” as one might expect. In its simplest meaning, a refugee is a person who flees his or her home country because of fears of persecution or abuse, particularly by their own government. However, the meaning is affected by political change, public perception and history. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, refugees are people who have been forced to leave their country and who are afraid to return because of war, violence or persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
Navigate through the exposition to learn more about refugees in Canada.
- 1770 – 1779
- 1780 – 1789
- 1830 – 1860
- 1870 – 1899
- 1900 – 1939
- 1940 – 1949
- 1950 – 1959
- 1960 – 1969
- 1971 – 1975
- 1976 – 1979
- 1980 – 1989
- 1990 – 1999
- 2000 – 2011
1770 – 1779
A Quaker meeting (courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division/USZ62-5808).
1770s: As refugees from the American Revolution, Quakers settled in what is now southern Ontario. Persecuted in England for their religious beliefs, many Quakers had migrated to North America, where William Penn founded Pennsylvania. They began arriving in British North America from England and Ireland in the 1820s. At the beginning of the 20th century, several Quaker settlements were founded in western Canada. The Quakers, properly called the Religious Society of Friends, are a Christian group that arose from the religious turmoil of puritanical England (mid-17th century). Quaker was a derogatory term given to the founder, George Fox, when he told a judge to tremble at the Word of the Lord. Quakers are pacifists who believe in social justice and international relief. In 1947, the international service bodies of the Society of Friends were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their postwar relief and reconciliation work.
1770 – 1779 (continued)
United Empire Loyalists arriving in Canada (painting by John David Kelly, courtesy Library and Archives)
1775–1812: American colonists of various ethnic backgrounds who supported the British Crown during the American Revolution were the first political refugees to British North America (Canada). These “Loyalists” were British subjects who had settled in the original Thirteen Colonies. They were defined by Great Britain as those born or living in the American colonies when the Revolution broke out who rendered substantial service to the royal cause during the war, and who left America by the end of the war or soon after. Sympathy for the Crown was risky: those who defied the revolutionary forces were left without civil rights, subject to mob violence or thrown into prison. All the states finally taxed or confiscated Loyalist property. Some 70,000 Loyalists came to British North America, the majority relocating in 1783 and 1784, and pledged their loyalty to King George III.
1780 – 1789
A family of black Loyalists in Bedford Basin, Nova Scotia (painting by Robert Petley, courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-115424).
1783–1785: Thousands of African Americans–“Black Loyalists”–joined the tens of thousands of American refugees who had supported the British cause during the American Revolution, lured northward by the promise of “freedom and a farm.” Most were runaway slaves. They had been encouraged to fight in British regiments against the Americans. Among the Loyalists who came to British North America were approximately 3,000 African Americans who went to Nova Scotia and settled near Shelburne, Digby, Chedabucto and Halifax. Nearly half of them initially went to Shelburne, drawn by the dream of a place where they could live independently on land they owned, free of prejudice. The British promise was 100 acres for each head of household and an additional 50 for each family member, plus provisions.
1780 – 1789 (continued)
Sir Guy Carleton
Sir Guy Carleton (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-2833).
1783: Sir Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester, the governor of the Province of Quebec, was British Commander-in-Chief at New York in 1782–1783. He refused to evacuate until the Loyalist refugees had been sent to safety and looked to Nova Scotia as a suitable place for them to relocate. He arranged to transport 35,000 refugees. Some settled in Quebec, and others in Kingston and Adolphustown, Ontario. The peace agreement following the American Revolution stipulated that the British would withdraw without taking African Americans or looted property. Carleton determined that former slaves who had been granted their freedom before the treaty could not be considered property and were exempt from the treaty. The Americans disagreed but conceded when Carleton promised compensation. He established a board of inquiry to hear disputes related to proclamations of freedom, recording the names and former owners of freed slaves in what has become known as Carleton’s Book of Negroes.
1780 – 1789 (continued)
Recognizing the “First Loyalists”
Sir Guy Carleton’s signature (public domain).
November 9, 1789: Sir Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester, the governor of the Province of Quebec, gave particular recognition to the “First Loyalists” by differentiating them from other Loyalists and settlers, such as the “Simcoe Loyalists” or the “Late Loyalists.” He proclaimed that the Loyalists should be allowed to append “UE” to their names, “alluding to their great principle, the Unity of Empire”; thus the phrase “United Empire Loyalist,” or UEL, came into use. The Dorchester Resolution, approved by the Council at Québec City, defined the United Empire Loyalists as those “who had adhered to the Unity of the Empire and joined the Royal Standard in America before the Treaty of Separation in the year 1783.” The term was first applied in the Canadian colonies and was officially recognized in the Maritimes only in the 20th century.
1830 – 1860
Poles Fled Eastern Europe
The Russian attack on Warsaw, 1831 (painting by Georg Benedikt Wunder, courtesy National Digital Library, Poland).
1830–1910: Thousands of Poles fled Eastern Europe after Russia, Prussia and Austria annexed Poland in 1793, beginning a period of brutal occupation and oppression. In 1831, a Polish uprising against Russia was ruthlessly suppressed, and a great number of Poles fled to Canada to escape economic, political and military reprisals. Many of these Polish refugees participated in the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837, using their political and military experience to contribute significantly to the British campaign in that province. During the second half of the 19th century, Poles continued to come to Canada in search of a better life, and many became successful businessmen, politicians, farmers and artisans in eastern and central Canada. During the first decade of the 20th century, the largest wave of Polish refugees immigrated to Canada, and by 1910, Poles represented 0.5 percent of the Canadian population.
1830 – 1860 (continued)
Ride for Liberty-The Fugitive Slaves, c. 1862 (painting by Eastman Johnson, courtesy Brooklyn Museum).
1840–1860: The Underground Railroad was an informal network of safe houses and people who helped fugitive slaves in the United States escape to free states or to Canada. Although most fugitive slaves remained in the free states of the American North, an estimated 30,000 reached Canada. The “railroad” operated roughly between 1840 and 1860. It wasn’t actually a railroad. It was a series of safe houses, or “stations,” with “conductors” or “agents” who ran the railroad by delivering their “baggage” (that is, the fugitives) safely to their destination. The people along the railroad communicated in code, often in song, to pass messages along undetected. The system became most effective after the passage of the U.S. Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, which empowered slave hunters to pursue fugitives onto free soil. This act resulted in several efforts to kidnap fugitives who were in Canada to return them to Southern owners.
1870 – 1899
Jewish Refugees in the Late 19th Century
The Loeffler refugee family in Edenbridge, Saskatchewan, c. 1920s (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-027525).
1870-1914: At the end of the 19th century, thousands of European Jews came to Canada to escape religious persecution, revolution, and the social and economic changes brought about by industrialization. The first wave of Jewish refugees came from Germany in the aftermath of the failed revolutions of 1848. The second wave came from the Pale of Settlement, a region in Eastern Europe and Russia that had a large Jewish population. Social and political upheaval in this region between 1881 and 1914 resulted in an increase in anti-Semitism, and Jews faced worsening restrictions on mobility rights and economic freedoms. At the turn of the 20th century, European Jews were coming to Canada in the thousands, seeking political, religious and social refuge. The peak year for Jewish immigration was 1914, when 18,000 refugees, mostly artisans, small merchants and unskilled workers, arrived in Canada.
1870 – 1899 (continued)
Italian Refugees in the late 19th Century
Group photograph taken at a dinner given for Italian-Canadian Reservists by the women of the Italian Red Cross Society, Toronto, c. 1915 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-91122).
1871-1914: After a long and disruptive period of unification during the mid-19th century, Italy was ravaged by war and struggled to rebuild. State reforms pushed many rural, agrarian Italians off their land and after 1871, 150,000 Italians came to Canada seeking refuge from political, economic and social upheaval. At first, these refugees were seasonal, working in Canada as labourers and returning to Italy to provide for their families. Many of these Italian workers contributed to the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Toward the end of the 19th century, however, the promise of a better life encouraged tens of thousands of Italian families to migrate to Canadian urban centres where they established long-lasting communities across the country.
1870 – 1899 (continued)
Ukrainian Refugees at the turn of the 20th Century
Galician (Ukrainian) immigrants in Quebec, c. 1911 (photograph by W.J. Topley/courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-10401).
1891-1914: Seeking refuge from serfdom and the brutality of Austrian rule, 170,000 Ukrainian peasants came to Canada between 1891 and 1914. Lured by government-sponsored advertising that promised 160 acres of farmland along with political, religious and social freedoms, Ukrainian farmers played a major role in the settling of the Canadian Prairie provinces. What began as a trickle of immigration in the 1890s soon became a flood at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1913, 22,500 Ukrainians arrived in Canada, representing six percent of total Canadian immigration. Almost all Ukrainians coming to Canada during this period became farmers, establishing long-lasting communities across central Canada.
1870 – 1899 (continued)
The Steamship Lake Huron
Doukhobors on the SS Lake Huron, 1899 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-5628)
January 20, 1899: After a month-long voyage from Russia, the steamship Lake Huron arrived in Halifax with more than 2,100 passengers, the first group of Doukhobors to immigrate to Canada to escape religious conflict with the tsarist government and Russian Orthodox Church. When the last of four ships arrived on June 6, 1899, roughly 7,500 Doukhobors had come to Canada. The Doukhobors arose in the 18th century, renouncing the Church’s ritual of worshiping icons, hence their original name “Ikono-bortsi” (“icon wrestlers”). An Orthodox archbishop called them Doukhobors (“spirit wrestlers”) intending it as “wrestlers against the Holy Spirit,° but the group adopted it, interpreting it as “wrestlers for and with the Spirit.” They sought to flee Russia at the same time that Canada needed farmers to settle the Prairies. Canada’s minister of the interior, Clifford Sifton, agreed to provide the Doukhobors with free land in present-day Saskatchewan and exemption from future military service.
1900 – 1939
Ukrainian Refugees in the Early 20th Century
Threshing on the Zahara homestead in Rycroft, Alberta, c. 1920s (courtesy Glenbow Archives/NA-3237-5).
1919–1939: After the First World War, Ukraine became embroiled in a bitter struggle for independence. The Soviet invasion, occupation and subsequent establishment of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1919 created social and economic turmoil in the region. Thousands of Ukrainians fled to Canada, seeking refuge from religious and political oppression, and to escape the ravages of civil war. In 1932, a massive and devastating famine in Eastern Europe, called the “Holodomor,” forced even more Ukrainians to seek the safety and prosperity of the Canadian Prairies.
1900 – 1939 (continued)
Mennonite Refugees in the 1920s
Ferry Crossing the Red River, 1927 (courtesy Provincial Archives of Manitoba)
1923–1930. Some 20,000 Mennonite refugees entered Canada during the 1920s after the Canadian government supported the efforts of the Mennonite community to help people escape famine and the effects of the Bolshevik Revolution. Mennonites are a religious cultural group established by the Anabaptist movement during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. In northern Germany and the Netherlands, Menno Simons was an influential leader of the Anabaptist movement. His followers became known as Mennonites. Persecuted for their peaceful beliefs, they scattered throughout Europe and eventually came to North America. The first migration to Canada saw 2,000 Swiss Mennonites from Pennsylvania arrive in Upper Canada around 1776, during and after the American Revolution. In the 1870s, the russification policies of the Russian government caused 18,000 Dutch Mennonites to flee to North America, with roughly 7,000 choosing southern Manitoba on the promise of land, cultural autonomy and exemption from military service.
1940 – 1949
Ukrainians and the Second World War
Wives of Ukrainian Settlers, Val-d’Or, Quebec (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-027486)
1945–1952: In the wake of the Second World War, millions of displaced Ukrainians sought refuge in Western Europe and North America. Between 1945 and 1952, 35,000 to 40,000 Ukrainians settled in Canada, largely as a result of the lobbying efforts of Canadian-Ukrainians who had come as refugees earlier in the 20th century. Unlike the previous waves of Ukrainian immigration, those who came to Canada during the post-Second World War period tended to gravitate toward the urban centres of Quebec and Ontario rather than the Prairies. Ukrainian immigration to Canada peaked in 1949 and by 1951, there were nearly 400,000 Ukrainians in Canada, contributing significantly to the cultural fabric of the nation.
1940 – 1949 (continued)
Humphrey Mitchell, Minister of Labour, welcomes displaced persons in the Reception Centre at Saint-Paul-l’Ermite, on their arrival in Canada from Germany, c. 1948 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-049400).
1947–1952: After the Holocaust and the Second World War, hundreds of thousands of people formerly held in Nazi concentration camps needed to be resettled or relocated. Many of these people, called Displaced Persons (DPs), were unable or unwilling to return to their home countries for political, economic and social reasons. Between 1947 and 1953, Canada admitted more than 165,000 European DPs. At the same time, the Soviet Union began installing communist governments in many Central and Eastern European countries, often purging former leaders of government, business and public life. As a result of overpopulation, poor economic conditions, and the threats of communism and Soviet occupation, thousands of refugees and DPs came to Canada. These newcomers were actively sought by the Canadian government as they filled gaps in the domestic Canadian industrial and agricultural labour markets.
1940 – 1949 (continued)
Palestinian “Displaced Persons”
Palestinian refugee family, c. 1948D50 (courtesy Middle East Centre Archives, St Anthony’s College, Oxford/1-15011-3).
1947–1950: In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition the British Mandate for Palestine between Jews and Palestinians. In the ensuing Arab-Israeli War of 1948, a number of Palestinians become Displaced Persons (DPs). In 1949, a few thousand came to Canada seeking refuge and resettlement.
1950 – 1959
The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
Delegates at the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (courtesy UN Archives)
1951: The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was created. It was an international agreement that defined who was a refugee and the protocols that guided the relationship between refugees and their host nations. It entered into force in 1954 to deal with Second World War refugees and Displaced Persons, and expanded in 1967 to include refugees from other parts of the world facing a broader range of social, economic, political and religious afflictions. Unlike the United States, Canada signed both treaties. In the end, the United Nations determined a refugee to be a person with a “fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”
1950 – 1959 (continued)
Jewish Refugees 1950s – 1970s
Jewish immigrants arriving in Toronto from Morocco, c. 1967 (courtesy Ontario Jewish Archives/Fonds 9, series 12, item 6).
1950s–1970s: In the decades after the Holocaust and the Second World War, Jewish immigration to Canada continued. The first wave occurred between 1947 and 1952 when roughly 34,000 Jews came from Europe, one third of whom were Displaced Persons, victims of Nazism. In 1957, more than 6,000 Jews fled Europe for Canada. Also in the late 1950s, thousands of North African Sephardi Jews, mainly French-speaking from Morocco, came to Canada and settled primarily in Southern Quebec. During the late 1960s and 1970s, more Jews from Eastern Europe came to Canada, particularly from Hungary, Poland and Russia, escaping anti-Semitism and poor economic conditions.
1950 – 1959 (continued)
The Hungarian Revolution
An immigration interpreter aids Hungarian refugees in Halifax, c. 1950s (courtesy Department of Manpower and Immigration, Library and Archives Canada/PA-181009).
1956: In 1947, a communist government was established in Hungary under the control of the Soviet Union. During the early 1950s, the Soviets continued to dominate Hungary economically, politically and socially, and living conditions became unbearable for some. In 1956, the Hungarian Revolution began, which attempted to free the country from Soviet control. After a period of bitter fighting, the Soviet Union brutally crushed the uprising and punished those who participated. Thousands of Hungarians fled the region, and some 37,000 came to Canada.
1950 – 1959 (continued)
The Chinese Cultural Revolution
Chinese Canadians celebrating Canada Day in Toronto (courtesy Multicultural History Society of Ontario, Winnie Ng collection, G-15-33).
1958–1966: During this period, China experienced the Cultural Revolution, a period of extreme social, economic and political transformation led by Mao Zedong. Millions of Chinese citizens were discriminated against, imprisoned or killed as Mao attempted to rapidly turn the country into a socialist farming nation. Thousands fled China to escape persecution, famine and poor living standards. In 1962, Canada reformed its immigration policy to be more accepting of non-European racial groups, particularly those from Asia. That year, 100 Chinese refugee families from Hong Kong were admitted to Canada. Because of these new immigration policies, Chinese refugees seeking the safety and prosperity of Canada increased by more than 60% during the 1960s.
1960 – 1969
Canada’s First Bill of Rights
Prime Minister John Diefenbaker displays the Canadian Bill of Rights, Ottawa, Ontario, September 5, 1958 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-112659).
1960: Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, whose grandfather was a German refugee of the Napoleonic Wars, introduced Canada’s first Bill of Rights. Created during a period of broad social reform and in the spirit of national independence, the Bill of Rights was a federal charter that recognized and protected the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Canadians. It formally put into legislation the right to life, liberty and personal security, and provided Canadians with freedom of speech, assembly and association. It also expressed Canada’s respect for the dignity and worth of the human person and its respect for moral and spiritual values regardless of race, colour, religion, sex or national identity. The 1960 Bill of Rights set the groundwork for the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982.
1960 – 1969 (continued)
The Prague Spring of 1968
A Soviet tank moves into downtown Prague as part of the occupation of the Czech capital, August 21, 1968 (courtesy Canadian Press Images).
1968–1969: In 1948, the Soviet Union established a repressive communist government in Czechoslovakia. In 1968, a conflict began when Czech leaders attempted to liberalize the country and remove some elements of Soviet control. Called the Prague Spring of 1968, Czechoslovakia sought to recreate “socialism with a human face.” Fearful of a domino effect in other Eastern European communist countries, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia with troops and tanks to put down the revolution. Roughly 12,000 Czech refugees fled to Canada to escape Soviet punishment. Many of these refugees were permitted to enter the country without any skills or knowledge of the English language, illustrating both Canada’s humanitarianism and position in the global Cold War.
1960 – 1969 (continued)
Canada signs the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
A United Nations vehicle in Kigali, Rwanda, passing groups of refugees on their way to camps, August 1994 (photograph by Ryan Remiorz, courtesy Canadian Press Images).
June 4, 1969: Canada signed the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, agreeing not to return persons to their country of origin if they had grounds to fear persecution. The Convention was the key legal document defining who would be considered a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states. The Protocol removed geographical and temporal restrictions from the Convention. The signing was barely noticed and went unreported by the media. However, it was an important moment in Canadian refugee history as it set the stage for Canada to gain its reputation of being a world leader in protecting refugees.
1970: Chilean Refugees of the 1970s
Chileans like the Enriquez family, who had taken refuge months earlier in the Canadian embassy, were airlifted to Toronto out of Santiago in early 1974 by the Canadian Forces (courtesy Multicultural History Society of Ontario).
1970s: Between 1970 and 1973, Chile tried democratically to create a socialist system under the leadership of Salvadore Allende. Fearing the spread of socialism and communism in Chile and other South American countries, the Chilean military took down the Allende government in 1973. The socialist reforms were reversed and a capitalist dictatorship was established by military coup under the leadership of General Augusto Pinochet. For more than a decade, Chile experienced a period of brutal political repression, economic turbulence and social restrictions. Between 1973 and 1978, nearly 13,000 Chileans fled to Canada to escape persecution and the authoritarian rule of General Pinochet. By 1978, Chilean immigration to Canada represented nearly 2.5 percent of the national total.
Soviet Jewish Refugees
Soviet Jewish refugee families at the Vienna train station on their way out of the Soviet Union (photograph by Nathan Benn, courtesy Corbis).
1970–1990: Deprived of political and religious freedom by the communist regimes of the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe, 250,000 Jews fled to Western Europe and North America. Between the late 1970s and early 1990s, 20,000 Soviet Jewish refugees settled in Canada, primarily in the urban centres of Quebec and Ontario. This wave of Jews had been denied by communist regimes the right to express and practise their religion, and many found it challenging to fully integrate into and practise with the existing Jewish-Canadian communities. Today, Canada has the fourth largest Jewish community in the world.
1971 – 1975
The Bangladesh Liberation War
Neer Hasim, with his four daughters, wife and mother, refugees from Myanmar en route to Canada (photograph by K. McKinsey, courtesy United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).
1971: Between 1955 and 1971, a state of conflict existed between the Muslims of West Pakistan and East Pakistan who could not agree on political representation and economic systems. After a series of disputed elections, the Bangladesh Liberation War broke out in 1971 between the two states. West Pakistan troops attempted to suppress East Pakistan by taking control of the cities. When the population resisted, the army carried out a series of massacres and human rights atrocities. While East Pakistan won its independence in 1971, becoming the new state of Bangladesh, many thousands feared persecution and economic instability after the war. At first, only a few hundred Bengalis fled to Canada, but between 1971 and 1986, many hundreds more joined their family members in Canada.
1971 – 1975 (continued)
Tibetan Refugee Program
The Lektsog family, Pema (left), her father, Tenpa, and mother, Tseten, arrived in Canada in 1971 (photograph by Bernard Weil, courtesy The Toronto Star).
1971–1972: Canada admitted 228 Tibetans from India and Nepal under the Tibetan Refugee Program. These people, and the Tibetans who subsequently immigrated to Canada, were refugees fleeing their homeland after China occupied it in 1949, bent on making Tibet yield to Chinese authority. The invasion culminated in the Tibetan uprising against the occupying forces in 1959 and the deaths of more than one million Tibetans. They are thus linked to Tibetan refugee communities in Asia, Europe and across North America. The Dalai Lama fled to India in March 1959 when the uprising was crushed. The influx of Tibetans into India and other countries continued after the initial exodus, straining resources in India, and in 1967, the Dalai Lama appealed to the international community to accept Tibetan refugees.
1971 – 1975 (continued)
Ugandan Asian Refugees
Asian immigrants boarding a plane at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, c. 1972 (courtesy NHQ-AC Roger St. Vincent Collection).
1972–1973: Following Idi Amin’s expulsion of Asians, mainly Ismaili Muslims, from Uganda on August 4, 1972, nearly 6,000 Ugandan Asians were brought to Canada. Amin blamed Britain’s colonial policy for Asian domination of Uganda’s trade and business. Declaring that political independence should lead to economic independence, he expelled all Asians who were not Ugandan citizens, roughly 80,000 people, the majority of whom held British passports, giving them 90 days to leave the country. In response to an urgent appeal from the British government, the Canadian government agreed to accept 5,000 of these refugees. Canada opened a special diplomatic mission in Kampala to process applications and federally funded committees in various Canadian cities coordinated the resettlement of the refugees. In October and November 1972, Canada received 4,420 Ugandan Asian refugees, who arrived on an emergency airlift. Another 1,278 refugees followed between January and June 1973.
1971 – 1975 (continued)
Refugees from Former Indochina
A Vietnamese refugee happily arrives in Edmonton, Alberta, on August 14, 1979 (photograph by Bill Brennan, courtesy Canadian Press Images).
1975–1980: After the Vietnam War, Canada accepted refugees and immigrants who fled the communists when Saigon fell on April 30, 1975. It is estimated that more than a million people left Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (the three countries that comprised the formerly-named Indochina) that spring. Many of them attempted to escape across the South China Sea in small boats vulnerable to pirate attacks and ill- equipped for extensive sea voyages. They became known as “boat people.” Most ended up in squalid refugee camps in Thailand and Malaysia, desperately seeking a place to go, but many drowned and those who made landfall were not welcome. The refugees’ movement to Canada gained impetus in 1978 when Canada announced that it would offer a home to 600 people aboard the Hai Hong, a Vietnamese freighter which had been refused permission to dock by the Malaysian government. The largest influx of boat people occurred in 1979. In all, Canada accepted more than 60,000 of them.
1976 – 1979
The Immigration Act
Volunteers and participants at an event sponsored by Immigrant Settlement &Integration Services in Nova Scotia (courtesy Immigrant Settlement &Integration Services).
1976: During the 1970s, in response to the increasing need to find places for migrating populations and with a restrictive policy that had not been changed since 1962, Canadian immigration and population policies were officially reviewed. The Immigration Act of 1976 (proclaimed in 1978) established for the first time the fundamental objectives of Canada’s immigration policy, setting the cornerstone of modern immigration policy. The expressed goals included the promotion of Canada’s demographic, economic, social and cultural goals; family reunification; non-discrimination; the fulfilment of Canada’s international obligations in relation to refugees; and cooperation between all levels of government, as well as with the voluntary sector, in promoting the adaptation of newcomers to Canadian society. Among the Act’s innovations was a provision requiring the government to establish targets for immigration and to consult with the provinces on planning and managing Canadian immigration.
1976 – 1979 (continued)
Mahin Shafei was an immigrant student in Canada when the Iranian revolution began. She chose to remain here (photograph by Allen McInnis, courtesy The Gazette [Montreal]).
1979: Iranian refugees fled Iran after the overthrow of the Shah during the Islamic Revolution and the imposition of a radical Islamic regime that brought to power hardline mullahs (Islamic clergy) who made no distinction between political and religious life and who imposed severe restrictions on women. For many Iranians, the revolution was merely the replacement of one brutal gang by another, despite the promise of the Ayatollah Khomeini that he would free Iranians from the tyranny of the Shah. Before the revolution, Iranians migrated to Canada mainly for educational or economic reasons, but since the revolution, they have largely done so as refugees, against their will and under pressure, to escape hopeless living conditions and political or religious persecution.
1980 – 1989
Many Cambodian families came to Canada in the 1980s to build new lives (photograph by Peter Turnley, courtesy Corbis).
1980s: Khmer Cambodians fled their war-ravaged country to find refuge in Canada. Cambodia was increasingly affected by the Vietnam War. Caught in the cross-fire between North and South Vietnam, over a million Khmer were forced from rural areas into Phnom Penh where thousands joined the communist Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot. When Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, Pol Pot undertook drastic reforms to alter traditional society by engaging everyone in state-controlled rural production. He evicted the population of Phnom Penh to rural areas. Over three years, two million were murdered, starved or affected by disease. Vietnam invaded in 1979, driving Pol Pot out. The collective farms collapsed. People began returning to their previous homes, but roughly 40,000 fled to Thailand. They were forced back across the border until Thailand yielded to international pressure and allowed the creation of UNHCR camps. Canada began accepting Cambodian refugees in 1980.
1980 – 1989 (continued)
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Queen Elizabeth II proclaiming the amended Constitution, Ottawa, 1982 (photograph by Robert Cooper, courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-141503).
April 17, 1982: The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the only charter of rights entrenched in the Canadian Constitution, came into force. The Charter played a significant role in the debate on the patriation of the Constitution in 1981. The goal of a charter of rights is to protect the citizen against the state and to protect minorities against parliamentary majorities. The Canadian Charter is comprehensive, covering several areas: fundamental rights, democratic rights, mobility rights, legal rights, equality rights and linguistic rights. The equality between men and women is also expressly protected by a particular section of the Charter. Aboriginal rights and freedoms are not affected.
1980 – 1989 (continued)
Canada is Awarded the Nansen Refugee Award
Nansen Medal (courtesy United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).
June 1986: The United Nations awarded the people of Canada the Nansen Refugee Award (formerly known as the Nansen Medal) for “the major and sustained contribution of the People of Canada to the cause of refugees” (that is, individuals, families, volunteer groups, community and religious organizations, and all levels of government). The Nansen Refugee Award was established in 1954 and named for Fridtjof Nansen of Norway, who was the first League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and winner of the 1922 Nobel Peace Prize. The annual award is given to an individual or an organization in recognition of extraordinary and dedicated service to refugees. It is the most prestigious honour bestowed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Canadians are the only people to have been honoured collectively with this award.
1990 – 1999
Refugees in Canada in the Late 20th Century
A young girl who was living in the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Nairobi, Kenya, resettled in Canada with her family with hopes of a better future.
1990s: By the 1990s, asylum seekers had come to Canada from all over the world, particularly Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa. An asylum seeker is someone who claims to be a refugee but whose claim has not been definitively evaluated. People who arrive in Canada can apply for refugee status at any border, airport or immigration office inside the country, even people who would be turned away by other countries, and their claim will be examined. Legislation concerning such claims is important to prevent human smuggling and abuse of the asylum system that may have a negative impact on people who are truly in need of international protection.
1990 – 1999 (continued)
Photographs of people killed in the Rwandan genocide (photograph by Radu Sigheti, courtesy Reuters).
1991–1997: Canada received 609 Rwandan refugees who fled the genocide of the Tutsis by Hutu extremists. The estimated number of people killed in the genocide ranges between 500,000 and one million. Rwanda is a small populous country in central Africa. For centuries, the majority of the population comprised two tribes: the Hutus and the dominant, but minority, Tutsis. The country was governed by Belgium until 1960, when an uprising by the Hutus resulted in Rwandan independence and the Tutsi king and his followers leaving the country, but unrest continued. Tutsi efforts to retake Rwanda resulted in renewed ethnic violence, which flared dramatically in the early 1990s, leading to full-scale civil war between the government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front. In 1993, the United Nations undertook peacekeeping missions, the largest being the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) in which Canada played a leading role.
1990 – 1999 (continued)
Yugoslavian Civil War
A group of Muslim women pray at a Bosnian refugee camp, August 20, 1992 (photograph by Pascal Le Segretain, courtesy Corbis).
1992: Canada admitted 5,000 Bosnian Muslims who were victims of the Yugoslavian civil war, which was characterized by ethnic cleansing and genocide. Yugoslavia comprised Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro and Macedonia, which were inhabited by three religious groups: Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics and Muslims. After the Second World War, the country was contained by communist dictator Josip Tito who suppressed, but did not resolve, ethnic rivalries. After his death in 1980, the country began to unravel. By 1991, Slobodan Milosovic had gained power by inciting Serb nationalism and civil war erupted as Bosnia declared independence. In April 1992, Bosnian Serb forces began methodically to seize control of as much territory as possible, especially in eastern Bosnia. Backed by JNA (army) units, self-proclaimed “Chetnik” gangs used terror tactics to drive Muslims out of their villages. Many of those Muslims fled as refugees to Zepa, Srebrenica, Tuzla and Sarajevo, and eventually Canada.
1990 – 1999 (continued)
Ethnic Albanians of Kosovo
Serbian refugees at a Kosovar refugee camp along the Kosovo-Macedonia border, 1999 (photograph by Jacques Langevin, courtesy Corbis).
May 4-23, 1999: Early in 1998, the civil war between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, Yugoslavia, gained momentum. Despite international pressure against him, President Slobodan Milosevic instituted a policy of ethnic cleansing against Albanians, compelling NATO to launch air strikes against the Yugoslav military forces at the end of March 1999. The civil war displaced about 860,000 ethnic Albanian Kosovars, and the United Nations made an urgent appeal for help. In response to the Kosovo crisis, Canada airlifted to safety some 5,500 Albanian Kosovar refugees during an emergency humanitarian evacuation and settlement effort called Operation Parasol in May 1999.
2000 – 2011
Karen Refugees from Thailand
A group of Myanmar refugees at the Thai border town of Mae Sot, November 8, 2010 (photograph by Chaiwat Subprasom, courtesy Reuters).
2006: In the fall of 2006, Canada accepted the first group of 810 Karen refugees from Thailand. The majority of the Karen people live in Myanmar, Burma, but they also comprise the largest of the Hill Tribes of northern and western Thailand, near the border with Myanmar. Political struggle and persecution resound throughout Karen history. The Karen fled their Burmese homeland in waves throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Many went to Thailand where they ended up in camps and came under pressure from the Thai government to leave. Many were forcibly evicted. Canada continued to receive Karen refugees from Thailand and eventually resettled 3,900.
2000 – 2011 (continued)
Bhutanese refugees at a Timai refugee camp, Nepal, April 15, 2007 (photograph by Desmond Boylan, courtesy Reuters).
2007: Canada announced the resettlement of up to 5,000 Bhutanese refugees within five years, a process that began in 2008. Bhutan is a mountainous country between China and India. By 1930, its southern population comprised 60,000 people of Nepali origin who became citizens under Bhutan’s first citizenship act in 1958. In the 1980s, Bhutan introduced discriminatory measures targeting people of Nepali origin. The 1985 citizenship act required people from the south to prove their legal residence in 1958. In 1989, all Bhutanese became subject to legal action for wearing anything other than the traditional northern costume in public, and the Nepali language was removed from school curricula. Public demonstrations followed in southern districts and participants were declared “anti-nationals” by the government. In 1991, southern Bhutanese began to flee the country as passports were confiscated, people were forcibly evicted to refugee camps, and homes were destroyed.
2000 – 2011 (continued)
Panther Kuol, who now lives in Vancouver, is one of 26,000 “Lost Boys”–refugees from Sudan (photograph by Kevin P. Casey, courtesy Vancouver Sun).
2010: Refugees of about 70 nationalities were either resettled or granted asylum in Canada in 2010 alone. “Resettlement” is the term used by Citizenship and Immigration Canada to describe the legal process by which a refugee is brought to Canada to live as a permanent resident. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other referral organizations and private sponsorship groups identify and refer refugees for resettlement in Canada. Citizenship and Immigration Canada uses two legal processes, with two refugee classes—Convention Refugees and Country of Asylum Class—for resettling refugees in Canada. Canada has accepted people from countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Bhutan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Thailand, Vietnam and Yugoslavia.
2000 – 2011 (continued)
Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Refugee children who once lived in makeshift camps face brighter futures when they are accepted into Canada (courtesy Refugees International).
March 18, 2011: Canada announced the Balanced Refugee Reform Act intended to expand its refugee resettlement programs by 20 percent. The government described its intent to repeal the restrictive Source Country Class, which applied only to people in countries listed in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations. Changes to the list required regulatory changes, a lengthy process, making the Source Country Class an inflexible tool that hindered the government’s ability to respond to emerging situations. The change would allow Citizenship and Immigration Canada to reprioritize its efforts to allow the country to place more emphasis on working with the United Nations and refugees in the greatest need. The new measures will help Canada to continue to be a world leader in the protection of refugees.
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