The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that more than 1.44 million refugees are currently in need of resettlement to a third country. These are refugees who, according to the UNHCR, can neither return to their country of origin nor integrate into their country of first asylum. A total of 107,800 refugees were resettled worldwide in 2019, both with and without UNHCR assistance. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2018, Canada accepted more refugees than any other country.
In 2018, Canada joined with 181 other countries to endorse the United Nations Global Compact on Refugees (GCR). The GCR espouses four central objectives: 1) to ease pressure on refugee host countries; 2) to enhance refugee self-reliance; 3) to expand access to third-country solutions; and 4) to support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity. Refugee resettlement addresses both the first and third of these objectives. Canada’s resettlement programs offer three main streams through which refugees enter Canada:
- Government-Assisted Refugees program: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) accepts refugees referred by an official referral agency like the UNHCR and provides financial and settlement support for up to 12 months following their arrival in Canada.
- Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program: Groups of Canadian citizens or permanent residents privately refer refugees to IRCC and provide the funding and settlement supports for the first 12 months in Canada.
- Blended Visa Office–Referred program: Private sponsors and IRCC share the financial costs of sponsoring a UNHCR-referred refugee, with the department and private sponsors each providing six months of financial support and private sponsors providing start-up costs and the entirety of settlement support.
The PSR program is considered a “complementary pathway” by the GCR, creating an alternative means by which refugees can resettle in a third country. This program has been successful in resettling large numbers of refugees, and as a result, the Government of Canada has partnered with the UNHCR and other organizations in the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI). The GRSI is an international project that shares best practices with other countries interested in implementing a private refugee sponsorship model. Since its launch at the end of 2016, different variants of community sponsorships have begun across the world.
Other complementary pathways include the Student Refugee Program offered through World University Service Canada, which combines resettlement with international student programs at Canadian universities, colleges and CEGEPs. Additionally, the relatively new Economic Mobility Pathways Project introduces skilled refugees to Canada through an economic immigration stream.
The Canadian government has longstanding commitments to resettle special groups such as women at risk and LGBTQ2 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or two-spirited) refugees. Other priority groups that have been targeted by special government resettlement initiatives in recent years include survivors of Daesh in 2016 and Syrian refugees in 2015–2016.
At the time of writing, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic continues to seriously affect refugee resettlement on a global and domestic scale. The UNHCR halted its resettlement program in mid-March 2020, with Canada following suit. In June 2020, international resettlement programs, including Canada’s, officially resumed though Canada’s resettlement numbers remain very small as a result of travel and other restrictions.
Read the full text of the Background Paper: Resettling Refugees: Canada’s Humanitarian Commitments
Author: Lara Coleman, Library of Parliament