Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Canada

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Canada , 1 January 1999, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 1998, Canada hosted 46,235 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included applicants in 23,367 pending asylum cases at year's end, 12,884 asylum applicants who received refugee status during the year, and 9,984 resettled as refugees in Canada during the year.

In 1998, 24,937 asylum claims were filed in Canada, of which 23,838 were referred to Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Canadian authorities decided 23,115 refugee claims, and recognized applicants in 12,884 cases (55.7 percent) as refugees. Another 6,210 cases were closed. (The Canadian government reports its own approval rate at 44 percent. USCR calculates approval rates based on decisions rendered after interview, excluding administratively closed cases from the calculation.)

In 1998, the leading source countries for refugee claims in Canada were Sri Lanka (2,526), China (2,048), Pakistan (1,757), and Hungary (1,383).

Canada resettled 7,413 government-assisted refugees, 2,186 privately sponsored, and 385 joint assistance sponsorships in 1998.

Asylum Procedure

Under Canada's asylum procedure, a senior Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) officer must first determine whether an asylum seeker's claim is eligible for an IRB hearing. CIC officers can rule a claimant ineligible for refugee determination on grounds such as criminality, as a threat to national security, or recognition as a refugee in another country. Persons served with a removal order cannot file refugee claims.

Eligible cases are generally referred for a merits hearing before a two-person panel from the Convention Refugee Determination Division (CRDD) of the IRB. If either of two CRDD panel members rules positively, Convention refugee status is granted, except in certain cases that require a unanimous decision, such as when both CRDD members agree that the applicant destroyed or disposed of identity documents without valid reason. The CRDD has 170 adjudicators.

The Canadian procedure also allows expedited consideration for claimants whose cases do not involve complex legal or factual issues, and who present no problems of credibility or inconsistency with known country conditions. In such cases, a single CRDD member can grant asylum after meeting informally with the claimant.

If both CRDD members reject a claim, the claimant may seek judicial review by submitting a written request to the federal court for "leave." Federal judges do not have to give a reason for accepting or rejecting leave. If leave is granted, the judge hears arguments, and either upholds the CRDD decision or sends the case back to the CRDD with a written opinion. Judicial review is limited to correcting matters of law; federal judges cannot examine claims on their merits. Federal courts have overturned less than one percent of first-instance decisions.

On average, the asylum procedure takes about 13 months to complete, according to an auditor general's report issued in late 1997. The report charged that "weaknesses pervade the entire process – a lack of coordination, integration, strategic direction, and overall follow-up."

In January, close on the heels of the auditor general's report, the Immigration Legislative Review Advisory Group, an independent advisory body, presented the minister of citizenship and immigration with a report, Not Just Numbers – A Canadian Framework for Future Immigration. The report suggested far-reaching restructuring of Canada's immigration and refugee system by separating its refugee protection system from the immigration system and splitting Canada's Immigration Act into a separate Protection Act and Immigration and Citizenship Act. Among its 172 recommendations, Not Just Numbers called for abolishing the IRB, and creating a single protection agency comprised of civil servants responsible for making both inland and overseas refugee status decisions. It recommended moving from Canada's current quasi-judicial, first instance refugee-status-determination hearing to an interview. Under the proposed system, rejected claimants would be able to appeal negative decisions administratively within the same protection agency.

The report prompted a series of public hearings with the goal of introducing legislation to restructure the immigration and refugee legal framework by the end of 1998. The report was hotly debated. The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), an umbrella coalition comprised of 140 nongovernmental organizations, said, "The existing refugee determination system, which has been recognized internationally as a leader in the field, is to be jettisoned and replaced by a refugee determination system that copies inferior measures used by other countries and incorporates the safe third country concept that has been used by many countries to keep refugees away."

Although the CCR praised the report for recommending the creation of a separate Protection Act, it faulted the report for: rejecting Canada's system of quasi-judicial decision-making; proposing a cap on the annual number of refugees to be resettled; imposing a timeline on refugee determination decisions; and requiring that immigrants speak English or French.


The 9,984 refugees resettled in Canada in 1998 were the fewest resettled in a year since Canada began its resettlement program in 1979. Between 1979 and 1997, Canada resettled more than 19,300 per year, on average. Private refugee sponsorships continued their decline in 1998, reaching an all-time low of 2,186 for the year, an 18 percent decrease from 1997, previously the lowest year of private sponsorship. The government announced that it anticipated resettling 7,300 government-assisted refugees in 1999 and between 2,800 and 4,000 privately sponsored refugees. It also said that it planned to include 10,000 to 15,000 refugees landed in Canada and 2,000 to 3,000 dependents abroad for refugee admissions of 22,000 to 29,300. Some 200,000 to 225,000 persons will immigrate in 1991, including refugees, according to the government plan.

Changes in Canada's refugee resettlement programs came into effect on May 1, 1997 in the form of the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program. In addition to Convention refugees selected abroad, the program in 1998 included two new classes of humanitarian admissions for persons in refugee-like circumstances: a source country class and an asylum country class. Both new classes were intended to include persons continuously and seriously affected by civil war or armed conflict. Such admissions are reserved for persons with no possibility for a durable solution to their displacement within a reasonable period.

In 1998, 141 refugees were admitted from the asylum country class. These were people outside their country of origin without other durable solutions who had suffered from massive human rights violations, armed conflict, or civil war. They were all privately sponsored. The largest number of asylum country class refugees were Afghans (39), followed by Iraqis (26) and Algerians (13).

The source country class is for persons within their country of origin who are suffering serious deprivations of their civil rights, and persons seriously and personally affected by civil war or armed conflict. The class applies only to persons from a list of countries the government designates. At the beginning of 1998, the Humanitarian Designated Class source-country list included Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Croatia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Sudan. In May, Canada added Colombia, Cambodia, and Liberia to the list. Canada admitted 889 source country class refugees during the year. The largest numbers arrived from Croatia (336), Bosnia (286), and El Salvador (63). Class members can be admitted either through government or private sponsorship.

Canada maintained refugee admissions for Convention refugees, and admitted 8,954 in 1998.

Undocumented Refugees

In 1997, Canada introduced the Undocumented Convention Refugee in Canada Class (UCRCC) for nationals or habitual residents of certain designated countries that cannot issue identity documents because of sustained civil war or the lack of a central government authority. Persons who qualify for the UCRCC may apply for landing without meeting the identity document requirements for permanent residence established by legislative changes in 1993. Previously, such persons, although recognized as refugees, could not reunite with spouses and children abroad because they were not permanent residents.

Only nationals from two countries, Afghanistan and Somalia, qualified for the UCRCC. In 1998, 420 Somalis and 24 Afghans applied for landing through the UCRCC class. UCRCC members must wait five years after the IRB recognizes them as refugees before they can adjust to permanent resident status.


Hungary became the third largest source country of refugee claimants in Canada in 1998, primarily because of Roma (gypsy) applicants. During the year, the IRB recognized 153 Hungarian claims as refugees, an approval rate of 71 percent of cases interviewed.

The jump in the number of Hungarian claimants in 1998 followed a similar jump in 1997 in applicants from the Czech Republic, the majority of whom were also Roma. The sudden arrival of large numbers of Czech Roma prompted Canada to impose visa restrictions on the Czech Republic in October 1997. As 1998 ended, Canadians were debating whether to impose visa restrictions on Hungary as well.

Detention and Deportation

Canada deported 412 rejected asylum claimants in 1998, among the 8,000 total deportations during the year, approximately the same number deported in 1997.

On March 12, the IRB issued "Guidelines on Detention" with the self stated goal of helping "detention adjudicators achieve greater consistency in exercising their jurisdiction." The guidelines provided recommendations to Canada's 38 detention-review adjudicators in four areas: long-term detention; the notion of "danger to the public"; alternatives to detention; and evidence and procedure.

Detention of migrants in Canada is limited by law to persons likely to pose a danger to the public or to persons not likely to appear for an examination, inquiry, or removal.

The Canadian Council for Refugees, while supporting the IRB's issuance of guidelines, suggested that the IRB should have included sections on the detention of asylum seekers and minors, as well as reviewing short-term detention.

Asylum Seekers at U.S.-Canada Border

Following a joint announcement in 1995 of a "Canada/U.S. Accord on Our Shared Border" by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and U.S. President Bill Clinton, officials of the two governments tried to write a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to establish which country should be responsible for examining an asylum claim when an asylum seeker from a third country travels from one country to the other. The governments circulated a draft MOA for comment that would require – with some exceptions – that asylum applicants traveling from one country to the other apply for asylum in the country of first arrival.

Canada's minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Lucienne Robillard, announced on February 5, 1998 that negotiations on the MOA would not be pursued "given the implementation challenges arising from...changes in the U.S. asylum system." Robillard said that "a bilateral agreement with appropriate protection safeguards is the preferred option, but it is by no means the only way to give effect to responsibility-sharing principles already contained in Canadian law."

During the year, there was a degree of confusion and fear along the U.S.-Canadian border among third country nationals seeking to cross into Canada from the United States to file asylum claims. The United States had enacted a new expedited removal procedure at ports of entry (Canada's stated reason for suspending the MOA). Asylum seekers feared that they would be apprehended by U.S. immigration authorities at the border and deported if Canada followed its traditional practice (at some ports of entry, such as Buffalo/Niagara) of registering refugee claimants at the border, but requiring that they return to the U.S. side to wait for a decision on their eligibility to pursue an asylum claim in Canada. During the year, Canadian practices appeared to be inconsistent, varying both by point of entry, and changing at the same ports of entry. U.S. immigration practices regarding asylum seekers directed back by Canada were similarly inconsistent. Finally, at the end of November, Canada established a uniform policy along the length of its border, permitting asylum seekers crossing from the United States to remain in Canada while waiting for their refugee status determination interview.

Search Refworld