How does Canada's refugee system work?

A refugee is a person who has fled their own country because they are at risk of serious human rights violations and persecution there, unable to return, and are in need of protection.

Canada has two refugee protection programs to help meet this need:

  • In-Canada Asylum Program - for people making refugee protection claims from within Canada
  • Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program - for people who need protection from outside Canada

The In-Canada Asylum Program

People arriving at a Canadian point of entry or who are already in Canada can apply for refugee protection by making a refugee claim to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The IRB is an independent administrative tribunal that decides if the claimant qualifies for refugee protection.

The IRB will hear a case and make a decision according to two protection categories.

  • A Convention Refugee has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside of their country of nationality and is unable or unwilling to return.
  • A person in need of protection faces the danger of torture, risk to their life or risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment if they return to their home country.

People who are seeking entry to Canada from the United States usually cannot make a refugee claim because of the Canada-US Safe Country Agreement.

If the IRB finds that a person meets the criteria of one of these categories, they will receive “protected person” status. Then they can apply for permanent residence. If the case is rejected, they may be able to appeal to the Refugee Appeal Division (RAD).

The Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program

The Refugee Resettlement Program helps refugees who are outside of Canada and their country of origin, and who are in need of protection.

People must be referred, either by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), a designated referral organization, or a private sponsorship group; they may need to have a refugee status document.

Refugees are resettled in Canada through different resettlement programs, including the Government-Assisted Refugees (GAR) Program and the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) Program. The main difference between these programs is the breakdown of the financial and non-financial support from the Government of Canada and private sponsors.

For More Information

  • Canada's Refugee System - Information about the structure of Canada's refugee system. From Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
  • WelcomeOntario.ca - This is a refugee assistance information website created to bring together trustworthy information for those helping refugees settle in Ontario.
  • Immigration and Refugee Board - An independent tribunal that is responsible for hearing refugee claims and appeals.
  • The Asylum System in Canada - A visual summary of how the asylum system works in Canada. From the UNHCR.
  • 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 4, 2022 4000347