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 Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Refugees are people who have fled their countries because of a well-founded fear of persecution, and who are therefore unable to return home. Many refugees come from war-torn countries and have seen or experienced 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 16.7 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 roughly one out of every 10 refugees, through the government-assisted and privately sponsored refugee programs.

Refugees selected for resettlement to Canada have often fled their homes because of unimaginable hardships 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 Refugee Agency.

In May 2007, for example, Canada committed to resettling up to 5,000 Bhutanese refugees and later expanded that commitment to resetting 6,500 refugees. As of September 30, 2014, more than 6,000 Bhutanese have already arrived in Canada.

Canada also continues to resettle Iraqi refugees. Building on existing commitments, Canada has expanded its commitment to help by resettling an additional 3,000 Iraqi refugees. This brings Canada’s total Iraqi resettlement commitment to 23,000 refugees. As of December 2014, Canada had already resettled more than 21,000 Iraqi refugees since 2009.

Canada has also expanded its commitment to help Syrian refugees by resettling an additional 10,000 Syrians over the next three years. This brings Canada’s total commitment to helping Syrian refugees up to 11,300 by the end of 2017.

Private sponsors across the country also help resettle refugees to Canada. Some are organized to do so on an ongoing basis and have signed sponsorship agreements with the Government of Canada to help support refugees from abroad when they resettle in Canada. These organizations are known as Sponsorship Agreement Holders. They can sponsor refugees themselves or work with others in the community to sponsor refugees. Other sponsors, known as Groups of Five and Community Sponsors, are persons/groups in the community who are not involved on an ongoing basis but have come together to sponsor refugee(s).

Canada has also introduced a third program to welcome refugees. Launched in 2013, the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program matches refugees identified for resettlement by the UNHCR with private sponsors in Canada.

Refugees benefit from up to six months of income support from Federal Government, while private sponsors provide another six months of financial support. In addition, throughout their first year in Canada, these refugees benefit from the personal and community connections they make with their sponsors. They receive ongoing social and emotional support while they help to adjustment to life in Canada.

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 2014, more than 13,500 people came to Canada and made an asylum claim.

The 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.

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 eligible to make a claim.

Integration services

Refugees—resettled from overseas or granted protection in Canada—often do not have the resources to easily establish themselves.

As such, the Government of Canada, working with an extensive network of partners and stakeholders, supports the delivery a broad range of settlement services to support successful integration of all refugees.

Assistance for resettled refugees

Resettled refugees get initial assistance from either the federal government, the Province of Quebec, or private sponsors (organizations or groups of people in Canada).
In keeping with Canada’s proud humanitarian and compassionate traditions, individuals and families selected under the Government-Assisted Refugees (GAR) program are provided with immediate and essential services as well as income support under the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) to support their initial settlement in Canada.

This income support is typically provided for up to one year or until the client becomes self-sufficient, whichever comes first. Canada provides RAP income support to eligible clients who cannot pay for their own basic needs. Monthly income support levels for shelter, food and incidentals are guided by the prevailing provincial or territorial basic social assistance rates in the client’s province or territory of residence.

RAP also provides immediate and essential services, generally delivered during the first four to six weeks following a client’s arrival in Canada, including:

  • port of entry and reception services;
  • temporary accommodation;
  • help to find permanent accommodation;
  • needs assessments;
  • information and orientation; and
  • links to other federal and provincial programs, as well as to other settlement services.

Private sponsors are responsible for providing financial and emotional support to privately sponsored refugees for the duration of the sponsorship period, or until the refugee becomes financially independent if this should occur during the sponsorship period. This includes help with housing, clothing and food. Most sponsorships last for one year, but some refugees may be eligible for assistance from their sponsors for up to three years.

Blended visa office-referred refugees receive six months of RAP income support, while private sponsors provide up to six months of financial support and up to a year of social and emotional support.

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

Assistance for all newcomers, including refugees

CIC also funds a Settlement Program that supports newcomers to help them settle and adapt to life in Canada. CIC works with provinces and territories, service provider organizations, as well as a range of other partners and stakeholders in delivering these services, which include:

  • needs assessment and referral services to increase newcomers’ awareness of their settlement needs and link newcomers to CIC-funded and community settlement services;
  • information and orientation services to better understand life in Canada and make informed decisions about the settlement experience. This includes  Canadian Orientation Abroad program, delivered pre-arrival by the International Organization for Migration, which provides general information on settlement, in person;
  • language training in English and French, so newcomers have the language skills to function in Canada;
  • employment services that help newcomers search for, gain and retain employment in regulated and non-regulated professions;
  • community connections services that enable newcomers to receive assistance in public institutions, build networks with long-time Canadians and established immigrants with opportunities to fully participate in Canada society; and
  • support services which help newcomers access settlement services, such as childcare, transportation assistance, translation and interpretation services, provisions for persons with a disability, as well as 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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