How does Canada's refugee system work?

Canada offers refugee protection to people in Canada who face persecution in their home country or the country where they normally live, or who would face persecution if they returned to that country.

You can make a refugee claim within Canada when you arrive by land, sea or air.

You can make a refugee claim outside of Canada, if you are sponsored by the government or a private group.

The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) makes decisions about refugee claims. They decide if you are a Convention refugee or a person in need of protection.

Convention refugee is someone with a well-founded fear of persecution based on:

  • Race;
  • Religion;
  • Political opinion;
  • Nationality; or
  • Membership in a particular social group (such as, women or people of a particular sexual orientation).

person in need of protection is someone who faces the following dangers if they returned to their home country or country where they normally live:

  • A danger of torture;
  • A risk to their life; or
  • A risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

Refugee Claims Within Canada

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) decides if you are eligible to make a refugee claim in Canada. If you are determined "not eligible," you may have other options.

For more information on making a claim from within Canada you can read How is a refugee claim decision made?

Refugee Claims Outside of Canada

People who are sponsored by the government or by a private group to come to Canada are called resettled refugees. People in this category are granted permanent residency when they arrive in Canada. The 2 classes of resettled refugees are:

  • Convention Refugees Abroad Class
  • Country of Asylum Class

Resettled refugees are generally referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They can also be sponsored by private groups.

Your Rights

Refugee claimants, Convention refugees and persons in need of protection have certain rights and may be able to access services, such as health care, education and settlement support.

If your refugee claim is denied, you may be able to appeal the decision. In this case, you may want to get help from a community legal clinic or a settlement agency.

To find help in your area, go to Services Near Me.

For More Information

  • Canada's Refugee System - Information about the structure of Canada's refugee system. From Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). 
  • Immigration and Refugee Board - An independent tribunal that is responsible for hearing refugee claims and appeals.
  • RefugeeClaim.ca - A multilingual resource that provides information on what you can do to prepare for your hearing. From Kinbrace Community Society.
  • Your Refugee Hearing – This website has practical information to help you prepare for a hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board.  It also offers an online tour of a hearing room. From CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario).
Last updated: February 14, 2017 4000347