Canada announces 3 new initiatives to welcome and support more refugees
June 18, 2021—Ottawa—The world is facing a refugee crisis. Across the globe, millions are displaced and longing for what most of us take for granted: a safe place to call home. As a global leader in protecting those who need it most, Canada welcomed nearly half of all refugees resettled around the world in 2020. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently called Canada “a bright light in a horrible year for refugee resettlement.”
Our efforts are making a difference—yet the world’s most vulnerable are counting on us to do more. In advance of World Refugee Day, the Honourable Marco E. L. Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, met with UNHCR’s representative in Canada, Rema Jamous Imseis, to announce 3 new initiatives to assist even more refugees.
These important steps will help Canada offer asylum to more people who need it, welcome more refugees through new channels and increase support to those welcomed through community sponsorship.
Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot
Launched in 2018, the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP) is a ground-breaking initiative that recognizes the talents and skills of refugees by welcoming them through economic immigration streams. This not only allows Canada to welcome more refugees, but also flips the stereotype of refugees as solely victims by demonstrating all that they contribute to our country. Today, the Minister announced a new policy that will help settle 500 refugees and their families.
The new measures will improve the EMPP process by
- expediting the processing of permanent residence applications for EMPP applicants in several streams, so they can start working and contributing faster
- making it easier for refugees under EMPP to get settlement funds
- waiving fees for permanent residence applications
- making the application process more flexible
- providing pre-departure medical services to assist with immigration medical exams
Protected persons in Canada
Despite the many challenges of the pandemic, Canada’s asylum levels have remained stable. We are now building on this success by increasing the number of protected persons we’ll welcome this year from 23,500 to 45,000. We will also expedite the processing of applications, meaning that more protected persons can quickly become permanent residents and put down roots in their communities.
Currently, there are over 40,000 protected persons and their dependants residing in Canada with open permanent residence applications. In 2021, almost 17,900 protected persons became permanent residents.
Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program
Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program is a world-leading initiative, helping us welcome more refugees and better equipping them for lasting success. Since it began over 5 decades ago, private sponsors have welcomed more than 350,000 refugees to Canada. This program is now emulated all over the world, from the United Kingdom and the European Union to New Zealand, and the US has committed to creating one as well.
To further strengthen this program, IRCC recently launched a national call for proposals to improve existing pre- and post-arrival support services for private sponsors and ensure refugees take full advantage of the assistance offered to them. As a result of this process, up to $3 million over 2 years will be invested in supporting 9 organizations.
“This year’s World Refugee Day comes at a challenging time, because the pandemic has made the situation worse. That’s why Canada is redoubling its efforts to welcome refugees. When others close their doors, we keep them open. We will keep looking for new ways to support and welcome refugees, because offering refuge to the world’s most vulnerable speaks to who we are as Canadians.”
—The Honourable Marco E. L. Mendicino, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
- Throughout the pandemic, Canada is one of few countries that never closed its doors and continued to resettle refugees.
- In 2018, Canada committed to resettling 10,000 refugees from Africa and the Middle East by 2020. Despite COVID-19 challenges and travel restrictions, Canada delivered on its Middle East commitment, and will soon do so for Africa.
- In 2019, Canada resettled more than 30,000 refugees. Refugee resettlement during the pandemic has been limited by many factors, including travel restrictions. Despite these challenges, we welcomed over 9,200 refugees in 2020.
- In December 2020, Canada started to accept applications for permanent residence from pending and unsuccessful refugee claimants who worked in Canada’s health care sector and provided direct care to patients during the pandemic. As of May 29, 2021, approximately 4,345 applications had been received.
- Refugees who face immediate risks may be resettled under Canada’s Urgent Protection Program. This program provides expedited resettlement to refugees whose life, liberty or safety is immediately threatened.
- In July, the Government of Canada will become the second Chair of the Central America and Mexico Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework (MIRPS) Support Platform. Canada will champion the issue of protection, meaningful participation and the empowerment of displaced women and girls. This theme will provide opportunities for Canadian leadership in putting women, girls and those vulnerable to gender-based violence, including LGBTQ2 communities, at the heart of solutions.
How Canada’s refugee system works
A refugee is different from an immigrant. An immigrant is a person who chooses to settle permanently in another country. Refugees are forced to flee.
Canadian refugee protection programs
The Canadian refugee system has two main parts:
- the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program, for people who need protection from outside Canada and
- the In-Canada Asylum Program for people making refugee protection claims from within Canada
Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program
Refugees who come to Canada have left their homes, and in many cases they have had to live in refugee camps for many years. When they arrive in Canada, they have to start their lives over again.
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), along with private sponsors, identifies refugees for resettlement. A person cannot apply directly to Canada for resettlement. After they are identified, it takes time to process the cases.
Private sponsors across the country also help resettle refugees to Canada. Some do this on an ongoing basis. They have signed sponsorship agreements with the Government of Canada to help support refugees. These groups are known as Sponsorship Agreement Holders.
Sponsorship Agreement Holders can sponsor refugees themselves, or work with others in the community to do so.
Other sponsors, known as Groups of Five and Community Sponsors, are people or groups in the community who have come together to sponsor refugee(s). They do not generally sponsor refugees on an ongoing basis.
The Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program matches refugees identified by the UNHCR with private sponsors in Canada.
Under our laws, we must carefully screen all resettlement cases. This makes sure that there are no issues related to security, criminality, or health. We work with our security partners to complete this work as quickly as possible.
In-Canada Asylum Program
The asylum program works to provide refugee protection to people in Canada who:
- have a well-founded fear of persecution or
- are at risk of torture, or cruel or unusual punishment in their home countries
Not everyone is eligible to seek asylum. For example, people are not eligible to make a claim if they have:
- been convicted of serious criminal offences or
- had previous refugee claims denied by Canada.
Refugees often need help to settle. This is true whether they are resettled from overseas or granted protection in Canada. The Government of Canada works with many partners and stakeholders to provide many types settlement services. These services help refugees adjust to life in Canada.
Help for resettled refugees
Under the Resettlement Assistance Program, the Government of Canada or Province of Quebec helps government-assisted refugees with essential services and income support once they are in Canada. This helps them to settle.
The refugee gets this income support for up to one year or until they can support themselves, whichever comes first. Canada provides Resettlement Assistance Program income support to eligible clients who cannot pay for their own basic needs.
Basic social assistance rates in each province and territory help guide the amount of money refugees get for shelter, food and other things.
The Resettlement Assistance Program also provides these services during the first four to six weeks after clients get to Canada:
- welcoming them at the airport or other port of entry
- helping to find a temporary place to live
- helping to find a permanent place to live
- assessing their needs
- information and help getting to know Canada, and
- referrals to other federal and provincial programs, and to other settlement services.
Private sponsors must provide financial and emotional support to any refugees they sponsor:
- for the length of the sponsorship period, or
- until the refugee can support themselves, if this happens during that period
The sponsor’s support includes help with housing, clothing and food. Most sponsorships last for one year, but some refugees may be able to get help from their sponsors for up to three years.
Blended visa office-referred refugees get six months of Resettlement Assistance Program income support. Private sponsors give up to six months of financial support and up to a year of social and emotional support.
Help for all newcomers, including refugees
We also fund a settlement program that helps newcomers settle and adapt to life in Canada. To deliver these services, we work with:
- provinces and territories
- service provider organizations, and
- other partners and stakeholders.
These services include helping newcomers:
- know their settlement needs and link them to services in their community
- better understand life in Canada and make informed decisions (this includes the Canadian Orientation Abroad program, which is provided overseas and gives general information about life in Canada)
- get language training in English and French, so they have the skills to live in Canada
- search for and find jobs
- build community networks with long-time Canadians and established immigrants, and
- access support services which help with:
- using transportation
- finding translation and interpretation services
- finding resources for people with disabilities, and
- accessing short-term/crisis counselling if needed.
Access to settlement services continues until individuals become Canadian citizens.
Canada has announced an expanded program to resettle Afghan refugees as territories in Afghanistan fall rapidly to the Taliban.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said Friday the program will welcome 20,000 Afghans, targeting those who belong to groups vulnerable to persecution by the Taliban.
Those groups will include: “Women leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, persecuted minorities, LGBTQI members, and family of previously resettled interpreters,” Mendicino said.
The government made the announcement amidst pressure to expedite its program to resettle those who were employed by Canada during its efforts in Afghanistan, such as interpreters.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on Friday acknowledged what she called Canada’s “moral duty” to help resettle Afghans who have worked for Canadian Forces and the Canadian Embassy.
On July 23, under pressure from the veteran community and advocates, Ottawa announced a new program to expedite the resettlement of its former employees including translators, drivers, cleaners and cooks.
The effort has been plagued by questions and controversy, including whether the extended families of those who previously came to Canada are eligible for assistance.
Under the newly extended resettlement program, those families will be eligible. Mendicino said they will be able to come to Canada through family-class sponsorship and refugee programs.
“Canada will do right by those who did right by us,” Mendicino said. “As the Taliban continues to take over more of Afghanistan, many more Afghans are under increasing threat.”
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Canadians have made it clear to the government that helping Afghans come to Canada is a priority.
“Canadians have shown incredible desire to open the hearts and minds to help those in need,” he said. “And we’re deeply grateful for the support shown by Canadians across the country.”
Andrew Rusk, who co-founded the group Not Left Behind to support the resettlement of Afghans who have worked for Canada, is also the brother-in-law of Capt. Nichola Goddard. Goddard was the first female Canadian combat soldier killed in combat in Afghanistan.
He said the program announced Friday is a step in the right direction.
“I’m thankful that the government has expanded the eligibility criteria to include those who have to date been excluded from the plan,” he said.
But he expressed concern that the plan could be too late for the hundreds of Afghans who have worked for Canada and their families. The government, he said, should have acted as soon as the U.S. announced plans to withdraw from Afghanistan four months ago, or even sooner.
“The announcement is a great step forward but it shouldn’t have taken months for the government to take this action,” Rusk said. “At this stage, there are hundreds of Afghans who supported Canada who are hiding in their homes and safe houses while being hunted by the Taliban.”
Rusk also expressed his hope that the Liberals would remain focused on the crisis in Afghanistan — and hold off on calling a much-anticipated fall election.
Marc Garneau, the minister of foreign affairs, said the government is also currently talking with the Afghanistan government to try to expedite the process of getting passports for Afghans wanting to come to Canada. The situation of those with expired passports or no passport at all has so far been a barrier to the special immigration program.
The Taliban completed their sweep of Afghanistan’s south Friday, taking four more provincial capitals in a lightning offensive that brought them closer to Kabul just weeks before the U.S. is set to officially end its two-decade war.
In the past 24 hours, the country’s second- and third-largest cities — Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south — have fallen to the insurgents, as has the capital of the southern province of Helmand.
The blitz through the Taliban’s southern heartland means the insurgents now hold half of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals and control more than two-thirds of the country. The Western-backed government in the capital, Kabul, still holds a smattering of provinces in the centre and east, as well as the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
While Kabul is not directly under threat yet, the resurgent Taliban were battling government forces in Logar province, some 80 kilometres from the capital. The U.S. military has estimated that Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days and that the Taliban could overrun the rest of the country within a few months. They have already taken over much of the north and west of the country.
A total of 158 Canadian soldiers died during the Canadian Forces efforts in Afghanistan.
With files from the Associated Press