The refugee system in Canada

Tradition of humanitarian action

Our compassion and fairness are a source of great pride for Canadians.

These values are at the core of our domestic refugee protection system and our resettlement program. Both programs have long been praised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Refugees are people who have fled their countries because of a well-founded fear of widespread persecution, and who are unable to return home. Many refugees come from war-torn countries and have seen unthinkable horrors.

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

Canadian refugee protection programs

The Canadian refugee system has two main parts:

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

Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program

There are an estimated 10.5 million refugees in the world today. Countries with resettlement programs resettle about 100,000 refugees from abroad each year. Of that number, Canada annually takes in one out of every 10, through the government-assisted and privately sponsored refugee programs.

The Government of Canada is committed to strengthening Canada’s role as a global leader in refugee protection by enhancing our resettlement programs by:

  • increasing the number of refugees resettled from abroad and
  • increasing resettlement assistance provided to refugees.

The Government is increasing the number of refugees and other persons in vulnerable circumstances that this country resettles each year by 20%. By 2013, Canada will resettle up to 14,500 refugees and other vulnerable persons a year.

Refugees selected for resettlement to Canada have often fled their homes because of unimaginable hardship and have, in many cases, been forced to live in refugee camps for many years. When they arrive in Canada, they basically pick up the pieces of their lives and start over again.

As a member of the international community, Canada helps find solutions to prolonged and emerging refugee situations and helps emerging democracies try to solve many of the problems that create refugee populations. To do this, Canada works closely with the United Nations High Commissionaire for Refugees.

In 2006, for example, Canada began resettling Karen refugees. It has now welcomed more than 3,900 Karen refugees from some of the most remote camps in Thailand.

In May 2007, Canada committed to resettling up to 5,000 Bhutanese refugees. As of June 2012, nearly 4,500 Bhutanese have already arrived in Canada. In addition, the Government recently announced that it would resettle up to 500 more Bhutanese refugees whose family connections are in Canada.

To enhance services for government-assisted refugees in Canada, the funding for the Resettlement Assistance Program has also increased to $54 million a year.

The amount of monthly income support provided to government-assisted refugees is based on current provincial social assistance rates. It provides the minimum amount required to cover only the most basic food and shelter needs until the refugees are able to support themselves.

This support is normally available for up to one year but may extend up to two years for refugees with special needs.

The Resettlement Assistance Program provides income support to government-assisted refugees and offers other essential services such as:

  • welcoming at the point of entry
  • temporary housing
  • help to find permanent housing
  • other settlement services, including financial assistance.

These resettlement services are in addition to settlement services and programs funded by CIC to help all newcomers, including refugees, settle and integrate into their new communities.

In-Canada Asylum Program

Refugees come from around the world and many make their claims in Canada. The number of people arriving varies from year to year. In 2011, more than 24,900 people came to Canada and made a refugee claim.

The asylum program works to provide refugee protection to people in Canada who are at risk of torture, or cruel or unusual punishment in their home countries.

Not everyone is eligible to seek asylum. For example, people convicted of serious criminal offences and people who have had previous refugee claims denied by Canada are not accepted.

Integration services

Refugees—resettled from overseas or granted protection in Canada—often do not have the resources to easily establish themselves. All refugees are entitled to basic health services and settlement support.

Resettled refugees get initial assistance from either the federal government, the Province of Quebec, or private sponsors (organizations or groups of people in Canada).

These programs are a key part of helping refugees and other newcomers settle in Canada. This is why, since 2006, the Government of Canada has tripled immigrant settlement funding.

CIC’s also funds a Settlement Program that supports newcomers in a variety of ways  by providing services that help them settle and adapt to life in Canada.  CIC works with provinces, territories and service provider organizations in delivering these services, which include:

  • information and orientation services to better understand life in Canada and make informed decisions about the settlement experience; this includes overseas in-person service through Canadian Orientation Abroad available in several countries as well as in-Canada products and services,
  • needs assessment and referral activities to increase newcomers’ awareness of their settlement needs and link newcomers to CIC-funded and community settlement services,
  • language training in English and French, so newcomers have the language skills to function in Canada,
  • help finding employment that matches newcomers’ skills and education and,
  • support services which help newcomers access settlement services, such as child-care, transportation assistance; translation; interpretation; and short-term/crisis counselling to deal with settlement issues.


Finding who is in need of Canada’s protection is a process that must take into consideration the responsibility of helping those in genuine need while protecting the system against those who seek to abuse it. The health and safety of Canadians must also be ensured.

Our refugee protection programs have helped refugees bring their experiences and skills and their hopes and dreams to Canada which, in turn, has contributed to an even richer and more prosperous society for us all.

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