Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2018, 15:01 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Canada

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Canada, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 17 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.

CAN figures


Canada granted asylum to nearly 5,900 individuals during 2007, including more than 700 each from Colombia, China, and Sri Lanka. At the end of the year, more than 37,500 asylum seekers had pending claims. Canada's refugee resettlement program accepted 11,100 refugees, including 2,040 from Afghanistan, 1,790 from Myanmar, and 1,650 from Colombia.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reports of refoulement, but the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Canadian nongovernmental organizations protested the country's return of five asylum seekers (four Haitians and one Salvadoran) to the United States from the Lacolle, Québec border post in October. U.S. authorities immediately detained two of the returnees.

The return of asylum seekers was under the 2004 Agreement for Cooperation in the Examination of Refugee Status Claims from Nationals of Third Countries between Canada and the United States, better known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, which made asylum seekers traveling between the two countries apply in the country where they first arrived. Since 2006, Canada had agreed not to direct asylum seekers back to the United States without hearing their claims, barring exceptional circumstances.

In November, the Federal Court ruled that returning refugees to the United States was not safe because the United States failed to respect the principle of nonrefoulement and voided the Safe Third Country Agreement. In January 2008, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that Canada could still turn asylum seekers back at the border while it reviewed the decision.

In August, the Canadian embassies in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Japan denied visas to four activists from Myanmar who wished to attend a conference in Ottawa for fear that they would try to stay in Canada. Canadian officials arrested an American refugee activist on human smuggling charges after she drove 12 Haitian asylum seekers to the Canadian border. The Government dropped the charges in November.

Since 2004, Canada suspended removals to Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe, but not for those who had committed crimes or posed security risks.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) selected refugees abroad for resettlement based on referrals from UNHCR and private sponsors. In the case of designated source countries (Congo-Kinshasa, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan), residents could apply directly at Canadian missions serving that region. The Canadian visa officer decided all claims from abroad.

Within Canada, the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) decided asylum claims based on the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees as well as Article 3 of the 1984 Convention against Torture. Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), which took effect in 2002, called for a Refugee Appeal Division, but the Government had not created one by year's end. A bill to implement the appeals process passed Canada's House of Commons, but did not get a second reading in the Senate. Applicants could appeal to the Federal Court, but the court rejected 90 percent of appeals without giving reasons. When the Federal Court upheld claims, the cases returned to the IRB for further hearings. Rejected asylum seekers could also seek pre-removal risk assessments, but these considered only new evidence and did not review original decisions. The final option was to seek permanent residence on discretionary "humanitarian and compassionate grounds." The Government could deport applicants, however, even as it considered their claims.

Every refugee and asylum seeker had the right to representation by legal counsel, and several provinces provided free legal aid to those who could not afford it.

Detention/Access to Courts

Canada detained some 5,700 asylum seekers during 2007, and held 276 at the end of the year.

The IRPA gave authorities the right to detain noncitizens for security reasons, in cases of failure to establish identity, or if they deemed them likely to skip proceedings. Detainees could appeal to the IRB, but it could not intervene if CIC doubted their identity. The IRB reviewed non-identity-based detention cases 48 hours after detention, again within 7 days, and then every 30 days thereafter.

Canada had an expedited process to remove dangerous persons, allowing for indefinite detention of permanent residents, refugees, and temporary visitors without the right to view the charges against them. In February, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the practice and gave the Government one year to revise it. In February 2008, the Government passed a law improving bail procedures, allowing security-cleared lawyers to attend the secret hearings, and allowing challenges to Government evidence.

The IRPA entitled refugees and protected persons to documents indicating their status, but requests took eight weeks to process.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Canada allowed refugees and asylum seekers to move freely within the country. Once they obtained a Permanent Resident Card or a Protected Person Status Document, they could apply for international travel documents through the passport office.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Following the filing of their asylum claims and a medical exam, asylum seekers could apply for work permits. Until they gained permanent residence, the Government assigned refugees and asylum seekers social insurance numbers beginning with nine, which identified them as people without permanent status and made it difficult to obtain some jobs.

In January, a Canadian court ruled that the Ontario College of Teachers had violated the rights of an Iranian refugee, after it blocked her application to teach because she could not provide her original Iranian academic qualifications or copies with Iranian certification. The court ordered the College to reexamine her application.

CIC officers could impose, vary, or cancel conditions on work permits, including the type of employment, the employer, location, and hours worked.

Refugees had the legal right to hold title to and transfer businesses, land, and other capital assets.

Public Relief and Education

The Canadian Government offered refugees housing assistance, health services, financial assistance, and income support for up to one year. Once started, provincial health insurance covered them on par with nationals. Social assistance for asylum seekers varied by province and, in some cases, was worse than national treatment.

The IRPA stipulated that foreign minors did not need authorization to study at the pre-school through secondary school level, unless they were children of temporary residents not authorized to work or study in Canada. Refugee children had access to the same primary and secondary education as Canadian nationals.

USCRI Reports

  • Canadian and U.S. Policies Put Asylum Seekers at Risk (Press Releases)

Search Refworld