Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2017, 12:58 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Canada

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Canada , 10 June 2002, available at: [accessed 12 December 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 2001, Canada hosted some 70,000 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included individuals in 45,800 pending asylum cases, 13,300 who received refugee status during the year, and 10,900 refugees resettled from abroad during the year.

Canada received a record number of asylum applications, 44,500, in 2001, a 20 percent increase over the number received in 2000. During the year, 44,038 claims were referred to Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Canadian authorities decided 22,887 refugee claims, recognizing 13,336 as refugees, a 58 percent approval rate, the same as the previous year. Another 5,430 cases were abandoned, withdrawn, or otherwise closed. The Canadian government reported an approval rate of 47 percent for all applications referred during the year to the IRB, down from 49 percent in 2000. (The U.S. Committee for Refugees calculates approval rates on the basis of decisions rendered after interviews, excluding administratively closed and withdrawn cases).

In 2001, the leading source countries for refugee claims in Canada were Hungary (approximately 3,800), Pakistan (3,200), Sri Lanka (3,000), Zimbabwe (2,700), and China (2,400). Mexico, Colombia, Turkey, India, Argentina, and Congo-Kinshasa were the next largest source countries, with 1,000 to 2,000 applications from each. Among the countries with the highest approval rates were Afghanistan (97 percent), Somalia (92 percent), Colombia (85 percent), Sri Lanka (76 percent), and Congo-Kinshasa (76 percent). Among the leading source countries, Hungary and Mexico had the lowest approval rates (27 and 28 percent respectively).

In December, in response to the high numbers of asylum seekers from Hungary (which the Canadian government did not view as a refugee-producing country) and Zimbabwe (which showed a 1,000 percent increase in the number of visitors from 2000 to 2001), Canada imposed visa restrictions on all visitors from the two countries.

Asylum Procedure

Although Canada enacted sweeping immigration and refugee legislation at the end of 2001 that substantially altered Canadian asylum procedures, implementing regulations were not promulgated and the law did not take effect during the year.

Under the law in effect during 2001, a senior immigration officer from Canada's Department of Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) first determined whether an asylum seeker's claim was eligible for an IRB hearing. CIC officers could rule a claimant ineligible for refugee determination if the claimant had a criminal record, posed a threat to national security, or had been recognized as a refugee in another country. Persons served with a removal order could not file refugee claims.

Eligible cases were generally referred for a merits hearing before a two-person panel from the Convention Refugee Determination Division (CRDD) of the IRB. If either of the two CRDD panel members ruled positively, Convention refugee status was granted, except in certain cases that required a unanimous decision, such as when both CRDD members agreed that the applicant had destroyed or disposed of identity documents without valid reason.

A single CRDD member could expedite consideration of a claim and grant asylum after meeting informally with the asylum seeker in cases that did not involve complex legal or factual issues and presented no problems of credibility or inconsistency with known country conditions. The normal refugee determination procedure took ten months in 2001.

If both CRDD members rejected a claim, the claimant could seek judicial review by submitting a written request to the federal court for "leave." Federal court judges were not required to give a reason for accepting or rejecting leave. If leave was granted, a judge would hear arguments and either uphold the CRDD decision or send the case back to the CRDD with a written opinion. Judicial review was limited to correcting matters of law; federal court judges could not review asylum claims solely on their factual merits.

Canada provides asylum seekers with a variety of social services, including income support, legal assistance, education (for children), and health services. Asylum seekers are also authorized to work while their claims are pending.

Although Canada generally does not detain asylum seekers, some asylum seekers were held in detention during the year. In April, the UN's special investigator on migrants' rights submitted a report to the UN High Commission on Human Rights, criticizing Canada for keeping migrants – particularly asylum seekers from China – detained for overly long periods of time.

Some 26,400 refugees became legal permanent residents of Canada ("landed") in 2001. During the year, approximately 500 Somalis and 46 Afghans became permanent residents under the "Undocumented Convention Refugee in Canada" class. This allows individuals who cannot obtain official documents because of the lack of a central authority in their country of origin to prove identity by submitting declarations, affidavits, and witness statements.

New Legislation

In November, Canada enacted the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). The IRPA replaced all prior immigration and refugee legislation and made significant changes to Canadian asylum procedures. The new law will take effect in 2002.

Under the new legislation, an immigration officer has a maximum of three working days to refer an asylum claim to the Refugee Protection Division (the renamed division of the IRB known through 2001 as the Convention Refugee Determination Division). Cases not decided within the three-day time limit are deemed referred.

The new law requires the immigration officer to suspend consideration of a person's eligibility for asylum if the government alleges that the person is inadmissible on security or criminal grounds or for violating human rights (in which case the Immigration Division will hold a hearing to determine admissibility), or if the asylum seeker has a serious criminal charge pending in Canada (in which case the consideration of eligibility for asylum will be suspended until the criminal court issues a judgment).

The Refugee Protection Division either grants or denies refugee status. A negative decision may be appealed to the newly created Refugee Appeal Division of the IRB. The Refugee Appeal Division can review both questions of law and fact. Review is limited to the record; however, the Refugee Appeal Division may, at its discretion, consider additional written submissions by the asylum seeker, the government, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). There is no right to a hearing on the appeal.

A negative decision by this new appellate body may be appealed to Canada's federal court. However, there is no automatic stay of removal while the appeal is pending.

Asylum seekers who are denied refugee status are ordered removed. However, rejected asylum seekers ordered to leave Canada may apply for a "pre-removal risk assessment" and may be permitted to remain in Canada permanently if they fear persecution in their country of origin. Some rejected asylum seekers – including those subject to extradition and those who came to Canada from a safe third country – are precluded from applying for protection under this section of the new law.

Asylum seekers rejected on security or criminal grounds or for violating human rights are eligible for a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment, but the government will balance the risk of return against the danger the person may pose to the public. If the risk to the asylum seeker is deemed greater than the risk to the public, the asylum seeker's removal will be temporarily stayed but he or she will not be eligible for permanent status.

The new legislation allows UNHCR to take an expanded role in refugee proceedings, giving the refugee agency the opportunity to observe proceedings before the IRB and to make submissions to the new Refugee Appeal Division.

Convention Against Torture

The new legislation explicitly states that the Refugee Protection Division must consider Canada's obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture in making refugee determinations. However, UNHCR criticized Canada for not recognizing the "absolute" nature of the Convention Against Torture's prohibition against removal in cases where an individual faces torture.

In 2000, a Canadian federal court decided that the government may return refugees it suspects of terrorism even if they may face torture in their homeland. The case involved two asylum seekers: Manickavasagam Suresh of Sri Lanka (found by the court to be an international leader of the Tamil Tigers) and Mansour Ahani of Iran (believed to be an assassin in the Iranian secret service). Both claimed they feared torture by their governments and denied involvement in terrorist activity.

The asylum seekers appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the cases in May 2001. One justice asserted that sending people to countries where they would be tortured would "blow out of the water" international human rights conventions. The government argued against making Canada "a safe haven of the most welcoming kind" for terrorists.

(In January 2002, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in the Suresh and Ahani cases. The Supreme Court ruled that in some circumstances, asylum seekers could be removed to countries where they could face torture. The court ruled that Suresh was entitled to another hearing because his initial hearing lacked procedural fairness. Ahani was ordered removed, but continued to fight his removal and had not yet been returned to Iran.)

In another case, Canada was faced with the choice between returning an asylum seeker charged with masterminding the largest corruption scandal in modern Chinese history to China, where he faced execution, or granting him asylum in Canada. During the year, the Supreme Court ruled that the asylum seeker could not be sent back to China to face the death penalty and that he was entitled to a hearing on his refugee claim. The asylum hearing began in July after China promised not to execute or torture the asylum seeker. No decision on the claim was made by year's end.


During the year, the Canadian government continued to engage in efforts to prevent unauthorized migration to Canada. Canadian immigration officers trained law enforcement officials in other countries and used diplomatic pressure to reinforce their efforts at interception. During the year, UNHCR and Amnesty International expressed concern that Canada did not sufficiently consider the protection needs of persons intercepted by immigration officers abroad. According to UNHCR, "the obligation of States to respect the principle of non-refoulement extends to all government agents acting in an official capacity, within or outside their national territory."


Canada resettled 10,900 refugees in 2001. Of these, 7,300 were government-sponsored (the government paid the costs of transportation and provided services upon arrival). Private refugee sponsorships (including refugees joining family members) increased to 3,600 for the year. The largest groups resettled were from Afghanistan (approximately 2,100), Iraq (1,100), Iran (800), and Colombia (800). Canada's refugee admissions in 2001 were not significantly affected by the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Of the 10,900 refugees resettled in Canada during the year, 2,000 were admitted under the "asylum country" class. 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 for human rights violations, armed conflict, or civil war. Refugees in this class, with some exceptions, must be privately sponsored or be able to support themselves financially. Most refugees admitted in this category in 2001 were from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, the former Yugoslavia, and Somalia.

During the year, Canada resettled 1,500 refugees under the "source country" class, mostly from Colombia, Congo-Kinshasa, El Salvador, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, and Sudan. The "source country" class is for persons within their country of origin who have suffered serious deprivations of their civil rights, and persons seriously 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 2001, Canada, in cooperation with UNHCR, implemented its Urgent Processing Project (UPP) in all government missions where refugees were processed. The UPP aims to resettle refugees with critical protection needs within five days. By year's end, Canada had admitted 100 refugees under the program.

The U.S.-Canada Border

In December, the Canadian government enacted anti-terrorism legislation that authorized funding to implement comprehensive security-screening procedures for asylum seekers and others seeking admission to Canada.

Also in December, Canada and the United States signed a joint statement of cooperation on border security and regional migration. The statement was aimed at "deterrence, detection, and prosecution of security threats, the disruption of illegal migration and the efficient management of legitimate travel" through cooperation, information sharing, and increased border and immigration enforcement along both sides of the border and overseas. Later in the month, a Smart Border Declaration expanded on the earlier statement and included an action plan for improving border security.

Canadian officials met with counterparts in the United States and in Mexico several times after the September 11 attacks on the United States to discuss the establishment of a North American "security perimeter." At year's end, the implications for refugees of such a regional security zone were unclear. However, Canada and the United States agreed to "review refugee/asylum practices and procedures to ensure that applicants are thoroughly screened for security risks and take necessary steps to share information on refugee and asylum claims."

Canada and the United States also agreed to pursue discussions concerning the development of a "safe-third-country" agreement. According to the December joint statements, the safe-third-country agreement "would limit the access of asylum seekers, under appropriate circumstances, to the system of only one of the two countries." Under such an agreement, a person refused refugee status in one country could not then apply in the other. Canada and the United States attempted to negotiate a safe-third-country agreement in 1995 but abandoned the effort in the wake of strong nongovernmental organization objection and uncertainty about the effects of the Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), then newly enacted by the United States.

Approximately 40 percent of asylum seekers in Canada file their applications at ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada border. In contrast, few asylum seekers travel through Canada to file claims in the United States.

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