Canada’s refugee system The refugee system in Canada was developed based on international agreements and Canadian law. There are essentially two parts to the refugee system in our country:
The Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program; and
The In-Canada Asylum Program.
The Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program Refugees who come to Canada under this program must be referred – nobody can apply by themselves. Designated referral organizations, private sponsorship groups, and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) are the only agencies allowed to refer refugees. People referred through this program cannot be in Canada while applying for refugee status. Additionally, referred applicants must be outside their country of origin or the country where they normally live. According to the Government of Canada, refugees can only be referred if they are unable to return to their country due to persecution (e.g. race, religion, sexual orientation), have been seriously affected by war or armed conflict, or continuously denied basic human rights such as freedom from slavery, the right to education, or freedom of opinion or expression. Once an individual or a group of people receive a referral, they can apply for refugee status. The application includes a medical exam and security and criminal check. Processing times vary considerably depending on the person’s specific case and location; for instance, applicants in Sudan wait approximately 37 months, whereas those in Iraq may be processed in as little as 17 months, according to the Government of Canada’s processing times website. Part of the application assessment includes verifying the applicant’s ability to resettle successfully in Canada; the process may include an interview as well. Once the application is fully assessed and processed, the person is issued a visa. Refugees coming under this program are granted permanent resident status upon arrival.
The In-Canada Asylum Program The most significant difference between the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program and the In-Canada Asylum Program is the location of the individual: asylum seekers apply for refugee protection inside Canada. Generally, an asylum claim would follow the timeline below (according to the IRB Claimant’s Guide):
Claim: An asylum claim can be presented either to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) at a port of entry or an inland CBSA office, or at an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) office.
Assessment: Officers will review the claim, to assess the claimant’s eligibility.
If applying at a CBSA office or port of entry, and are found eligible by the officer, they will be given 15 days to complete all forms in the application package.
If applying at an IRCC office, the asylum claimant must have already completed all application forms.
Application and Basis of Claim (BOC) form: If the asylum seeker is found eligible and presented a complete application – including a Basis of Claim (BOC) form, the officer will refer their claim to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada and set a date for a hearing.
Hearing: At the hearing, the claimant answers questions by the Refugee Protection Division, and then from their counsel (if any). The claimant may bring witnesses, who would also testify. The counsel (if any) will then make comments or present evidence. At the end of the hearing, the Refugee Protection Division makes a decision and notifies the claimant.
Notice of Decision: If the claim is accepted, the asylum seeker can apply for permanent residence. If the claim is rejected, the claimant may appeal the decision in certain cases. As with the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program, refugees under the In-Canada Asylum Program are found eligible if they are a Convention refugee, or if returning to their country would put their lives at risk, or be at imminent risk of torture, cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.