Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Canada

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Canada , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 21 October 2017]
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 1999, Canada hosted nearly 53,000 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included individuals in 24,732 pending asylum cases, 12,954 who received refugee status during the year, and 9,777 refugees resettled from abroad during the year. It also included 5,513 Kosovar refugees remaining from the larger group admitted under UNHCR's humanitarian evacuation program of Kosovar refugees from Macedonia and Canada's Family Reunification and Special Needs programs.

In 1999, asylum seekers filed 30,124 claims in Canada. During the year, 29,396 claims were referred to Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Canadian authorities decided 22,332 refugee claims, recognizing applicants in 12,954 cases as refugees, a 58 percent approval rate. Another 5,597 cases were either abandoned or otherwise concluded. The Canadian government and UNHCR report the approval rate at 46.3 percent of all applications referred during the year to the IRB, up slightly from 44 percent in 1998 (USCR calculates approval rates on the basis of decisions rendered after interview, excluding administratively closed and withdrawn cases from the calculation).

In 1999, the leading source countries for refugee claims in Canada were Sri Lanka (2,915), China (2,436), Pakistan (2,335), Hungary (1,581), and India (1,346). The countries with the highest approval rates were Afghanistan (97 percent), Somalia (92 percent), Yugoslavia (86 percent), Sri Lanka (80 percent), and Iran (77 percent).

Asylum Procedure

Under Canada's asylum procedure, a senior immigration officer of Canada's Department of Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) first determines 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 because the claimant has been recognized 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 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 court judges do not give a reason for accepting or rejecting leave. If leave is granted, a 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 court judges cannot review asylum claims solely on their merits.

On average, the asylum procedure took about nine months to complete in 1999.

Although some asylum seekers are held in detention, they are generally not detained. Canada provides asylum seekers with a variety of social services, including income support and health services. Asylum seekers are also authorized to work while their claims are pending.

In January, the minister of Citizenship and Immigration released plans to overhaul the country's immigration and refugee legislation in order to find the appropriate balance between "protecting refugees and protecting North America from illegal activity."

Proposed reforms to refugee and asylum procedures included: requiring asylum seekers to file an application within 30 days (with some exceptions); precluding refused asylum seekers who return to Canada from making a second asylum claim; consolidating decision-making on protection issues at the IRB; increasing the number of immigration officers to intercept improperly documented migrants before they reach Canada; and detaining asylum seekers who refuse to cooperate in establishing their identity.

The proposal also included reducing the waiting period from five to three years for granting permanent resident status to refugees unable to obtain identity documents. Changes to Canada's overseas refugee resettlement program would include placing a higher priority on family reunification, processing urgent cases more quickly, and working more closely with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

NGOs expressed concern that some of the proposed changes to the asylum system, particularly the proposed 30-day time limit on filing asylum applications, would lead to violations of both the Canadian Charter and international human rights standards.

(The proposed legislation was approved by the Cabinet and introduced in the House of Commons for further consideration in early spring 2000, with several modifications from the initial proposal. The approved legislation did not include the 30-day time limit for filing asylum applications. It did include a right to appeal an asylum decision on the merits of the case, something new to Canadian law, though not the right to a new hearing.)


Canada resettled 9,777 refugees in 1999. Additionally, Canada took in 5,051 mostly ethnic Albanians from Kosovo under UNHCR's humanitarian evacuation program and 2,249 Kosovars under Canada's Family Reunification and Special Needs programs. The Kosovar refugees were unlike other refugees selected for resettlement, in that they entered Canada with special permits (called Minister's permits) and were given the option of deciding later whether they wanted to remain in the country permanently. By the end of 1999, 1,787 of the Kosovars had chosen to return home.

Of the 9,777 refugees resettled in Canada, 7,445 were government-sponsored (the government paid the costs of transportation and provided services upon arrival). Private refugee sponsorships (including refugees coming to join family) slightly increased to 2,332 for the year.

Of the 9,777 refugees resettled in Canada during the year, 2,258 were admitted under Canada's "source country" and "asylum country" classes. The "asylum country" class includes people outside their country of origin who do not fit the definition of a refugee under the UN Refugee Convention but who are otherwise at risk of human rights violations, armed conflict, or civil war. Refugees in this class must be privately sponsored or be able to support themselves financially. Of the 895 refugees resettled in this class, the majority (705) were from Afghanistan.

The "source country" class is for persons within their country of origin who have suffered serious deprivations of their civil rights, and persons seriously and personally affected by civil war or armed conflict. All are government sponsored. The class applies only to persons from a list of countries the government designates. In 1999, Canada resettled 1,363 refugees in this category, mostly from Croatia (657), Bosnia (463), Colombia (106), El Salvador (34), Congo-Kinshasa (22), and Guatemala (17).

In December, Canada's immigration minister announced a pilot project, in cooperation with UNHCR, to help refugees in need of immediate protection to get to Canada within days. The project, she said, would operate initially for one year in Kenya, Turkey, and Pakistan.

(In early 2000, the immigration minister announced the elimination of the $975 fee for permanent residence status for refugees, which had long been criticized by UNHCR and refugee advocates. She also announced that she would reduce from five years to three the waiting period to "land" unsatisfactorily documented refugees from Somalia and Afghanistan after their refugee determination.)

Chinese Asylum Seekers

China was the second largest source country for asylum seekers in 1999. Most arrived by air, but 600, mostly from Fujian Province, arrived by boat on Canada's west coast during the summer. This generated intense debate among Canadians about the country's immigration and refugee policies.

Nearly all of the Chinese migrants who arrived by boat during the summer applied for asylum. Although the approval rate for Chinese asylum seekers in 1999 stood at 58 percent, the group that arrived from Fujian by boat had only a 2.5 percent approval rate.

Unlike other asylum seekers in Canada, including Chinese who arrive by air, most (approximately 500) of the Chinese who arrived by boat during the summer were detained on arrival and held for the duration of their asylum proceedings.


Hungary was the fourth largest source country of asylum seekers in Canada in 1999, principally because of Roma ("gypsy") applicants. During the year, the IRB recognized 74 Hungarian claims as refugees, an approval rate of 16 percent of cases interviewed. This was a substantial drop from the previous year's 71 percent approval rate.

The U.S.-Canada Border

In 1995, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and U.S. President Bill Clinton reached a draft agreement called the "Canada/U.S. Accord on Our Shared Border." A draft memorandum of agreement (MOA) followed that generally would have required asylum seekers to apply for asylum in the first of the two countries they reached. Six of every ten refugee claims in Canada are made at the U.S. border. After much debate and strong opposition from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including the U.S. Committee for Refugees, the two governments abandoned the MOA.

Several years of confusion and fear among asylum seekers seeking to cross into Canada from the United States subsided somewhat in 1999 after 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 asylum interviews. In late 1999, the immigration minister announced that she would stop deporting refused noncriminal asylum seekers to the United States who come from countries to which Canada does not normally deport.

Then, in late 1999, U.S. immigration officials arrested Algerian Ahmed Ressam when he tried to enter the United States with explosives. Ressam had arrived in Canada in 1994 and applied there for refugee status. Following this incident, the United States pressured Canada to tighten its immigration and refugee procedures.

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