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Overview of Refugee Issues and Resettlement

posted Nov 25, 2015, 3:24 PM by A Rodney   [ updated Dec 12, 2015, 11:22 AM ]

This morning, as a member of the Upper Beaches Lifeline Syria group, I took part in a Webinar (an online seminar) titled “Overview of Refugee Issues and Resettlement” led by Yosief Araya (the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program Coordinator for Catholic Crosscultural Services). This was Part 1 of a series of webinars on sponsorship and settlement of refugees to promote an understanding of refugees, their unique challenges and resources available to them. In addition to general challenges, they are sharing information on challenges specific to the Syrian refugees as Canada prepares to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees over the next few months. Many thanks to Hilary Johnson, a fellow member of the Upper Beaches Lifeline Syria group, for tipping me off about this Webinar! (See parts 2 and 3 here and here.)

Some highlights from the presentation:



Generally speaking we use the word very commonly, to refer to both refugees or persons displaced from their homes. Legally, a refugee is someone who is out of their home country because they left for fear of persecution related to race, religion, nationality member of social or political group (includes gender and sexual orientation) and so the person is unwilling or unable to get the protection of their own country. This internationally agreed-upon definition comes from the UN 1951 Refugee Convention (later updated in 1967 to include global citizens). Canada’s own definition of a refugee in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act also adds that these people face  threat to life or liberty. Because refugees are not living in their home countries, the international community can do things to support them (unlike internally-displaced persons who are still in their home countries where the international community cannot intervene). The UN Refugee Convention is limited to people outside of their own country.


-Refugees escape persecution (migrants may come for other reasons: economic, family, etc.)

-Refugees’ travel may not have been planned

-Refugees may not have travel or identity documents

-Refugees may have to go through various countries and use unconventional means (e.g., brokers, smugglers)

-Migrants continue to enjoy the protection of their home countries while refugees do not


1. Those outside of Canada (who meet the Convention definition, left their country and are in a second non-Canadian country e.g. a Syrian person who is in a refugee camp in Jordan). These are people who have been individually targeted/persecuted in their home countries.

2. Those in a refugee-like situation. They may not necessarily be individually persecuted/targeted but they don’t feel safe (e.g. because of war or human rights violations or generalized violence in their country of origin). They are seriously affected by civil war, armed conflict or a massive violation of human rights. (e.g. in Syria the country at war so everyone is potentially and seriously affected even if they do not fit the Convention definition of a refugee


1. Privately funded by private sponsors (PSR) – you as a group have the right to identify who you want sponsored/from where and be fully financially responsible

2. Blended visa-office referred (BVOR) – 6 months governmental support, 6 months income support by sponsors

3. Joint assistance (JAR) – fully funded by the government; settlement support from sponsor (e.g., refugees who are high need or have health issues, large families, families with limited/no education, mental health issues  

4. Government assisted (GAR) fully funded by the government


1. They pose a threat to our system/our lives.

These threats have been over-exaggerated. Refugees are predominantly uninvolved in violence. These are people who have been living in refugee camps, they have been known to UNCHR for a long times (often years). They have had to give their fingerprints and undergo extensive screening. Refugees are not terrorists. They are human beings and it is important to remember that most victims of suicide bombers are Muslims in Muslim countries. Refuges are like all of us and their lives are not safe where they are. We need to fight Islamophobia.

2. They receive better governmental assistance and health coverage compared to pensioners or other Canadians.

This is not true. Any services they receive are as permanent residents of the country (which they become when they are granted asylum here). When refugees arrive, they are permanent residents and are therefore eligible for any services available for permanent residents (e.g., mental health services for victims of trauma and torture).

3. Those smuggled deserve less protection.

People who have used smugglers may have had to use unconventional means to get out of Syria because their lives are at risk.  They had no other choice and they are also victims of smugglers. Often if you are running from your country they will not give you an exit visa (something we as Canadians are not familiar with as we do not need one to exit Canada). Also if you are wanted by the state (who you are being persecuted by) they will not give you an exit visa and you may have to hide. Nobody would put their child on a boat unless the boat was safer than the land.

4. Refugees should wait in refugee camps to be selected rather than trying to enter countries directly.

It does not make you a better refugee if you stay in a refugee camp. It’s a matter of who has access to the camps or how much of a risk-taking personality someone has. Many people don’t want to stay in refugee camps because life in camp is not rosy – there are food shortages, people are living in tents and it’s often not safe for women who don’t have protection from a male partner/relative.  

5. Refugees who are less educated or who have limited skills are an economic burden.

Not always; remember these people are refugees not because they are poor but because they are persecuted and fleeing. Refugees could come from any economic or educational background. Safety and security is tantamount for these people. Their  success varies based on skills and education and integration.


In 2014 UNHCR made resettlement for referred 103,890 refugees resettlement (including 21,154 Syrian refugees). Only 73,000 of these were resettled in 2014.

There are millions of refugees in the world and only a fraction of them are resettled . Why? There are very few resettlement countries and most have restrictive limits on how many people they are allowed to resettle (quota system)


According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), Canada plans to bring between 260,000-285,000 immigrants in 2015

Commitment to settle 14,500 refugees (up to 7000 GARs, 6500 PSRs, 1000 BVORs). This number is low relative to overall immigration categories.

Note there is a commitment to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees on top of this

Other interesting facts to note:

-Privately sponsored Syrian refugees will primarily be coming from Visa posts in Beirut (Lebanon) and Amman (Jordan).

-On the CIC website there is a list of places willing to collect donations for Syrians and also a list of sponsorship groups.

-Refugees from Syria are likely 95% Muslim. Religious information is usually only collected by UNCHR if the person is persecuted because of their religion

Stay tuned for a summary of parts 2 and 3 of this series on refugee resettlement!