The refugee crisis sweeping across Europe has again shone a light on the topic of refugees in Canada. In particular, while many people are aware Canada accepts refugees, there is much confusion surrounding the question about how refugees are accepted and how they make their way to Canada.


There are two main systems for processing refugees. The system, which gets the most press, is the one run in Canada by the Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board and is only available to those who manage to make their way to Canada.


When refugee claimants enter Canada and make claims either at the Port of Entry or once they enter the country, they have their claims heard by the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). There are many advantages to having one’s claim heard by the RPD. Claims are presently heard quickly, often within 60 days of the claimant’s arrival in Canada. Claimants’ are entitled to an oral hearing with the right to representation, often provided by the state at no charge. Claimants who fail at the first level hearing are usually entitled to an appeal before the Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) and or an application for Judicial Review at the Federal Court.


There is however one significant disadvantage to the Canada based refugee system. In order for claimants to take advantage of the system they must first be able to make their way to Canada.  Such a system typically favours those with the financial means to hire a smuggler who can facilitate a trip to Canada. As well, many refugee producing countries make it almost impossible for women to travel alone and thus those who are often most vulnerable to persecution are not able to take advantage of this refugee system because they simply have no ability to make their way to Canada.


The other main system available to refugees processes refugees abroad. Again there are advantages and disadvantages of this system. On the plus side, claimants can be processed abroad. The programs only exists for those who have fled the country where they fear persecution but would, for example, apply to Syrian refugees who have fled to countries like Lebanon or Jordan. This mitigates, to some degree, the exorbitant costs refugees often have to pay smugglers to flee to Canada, though escaping to a neighbouring country can still be difficult, expensive and again unlikely for the most vulnerable such as women and children who often require the company of a man to travel.


The disadvantages of “resettlement from outside Canada” are many and substantive. First, claims processed abroad can often take years to process. Given the dire circumstances we see in the news as refugees flood Europe, legitimate claimants, more often than not, do not have the luxury of years to have their claims processed. Second, eligibility is much more stringent than what is applied to refugees who apply in Canada. Claimants must be referred by the UN, an NGO or be either government assisted or privately sponsored or have sufficient funds to support themselves in Canada. Finally, unlike the Canadian system, refugees abroad have their claims heard by Immigration Officers with whom they have no right of appeal. Judicial Reviews are available but the likelihood of a refugee abroad gaining access to the Canadian legal system for such an action would be remote.


Given the difficulty of getting to Canada to make claims here and the long processing times of claims made abroad it no wonder why Canada’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis has been so abysmal.