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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

Since November 5, 2011, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has not been accepting new applications for the Source Country Class. Find out more information about this change on CIC's website.

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 (landed status) when they arrive in Canada. The 2 classes of resettled refugees are:

Also, some refugees apply for resettlement in Canada by contacting a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office or a Canadian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. Find out more about how to sponsor a refugee.

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 and education. You may also be able to appeal the decision, if your refugee claim was denied. You can 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 from Citizenship and Immigration Canada about how refugees come to Canada and how the system works.
  • Immigration and Refugee Board - An independent tribunal that is responsible for hearing refugee claims and appeals.
  • Refugee Hearing Preparation: A Guide for Refugee Claimants - This resource provides a simple explanation of what you should do to prepare for your hearing.  Although this booklet was written for refugee claimants in Vancouver, most of the information is useful for claimants across Canada. From Kinbrace Community Society.
  • Refugee Rights in Ontario - Detailed information about how to make a refugee claim, what services are available to refugee claimants and where to find legal help.  From Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO).
Last Updated: April 9, 2013
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