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CIMM Committee Report

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Government Response to the Sixth Report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, entitled Distress Call: How Canada’s Immigration Program Can Respond to Reach the Displaced and Most Vulnerable

Introduction

The Government of Canada thanks the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) for its sixth report, entitled Distress Call: How Canada’s Immigration Program Can Respond to Reach the Displaced and Most Vulnerable, which was tabled in the House of Commons on October 5, 2016. The Government strongly supports the report and its recommendations. Helping vulnerable populations across the globe remains at the core of Canada’s Refugee Resettlement Program. The CIMM Study and the resulting Report provide the Government with an opportunity to think critically about the ways in which Canada does and can further help at-risk populations, particularly those in inaccessible regions of the world. The Government welcomes the opportunity to have these important issues examined from the broad and rich perspectives of the stakeholders and parliamentarians who participated in the Committee’s Study.

Canadian Resettlement in Context

The current level of global forced displacement is unprecedented and the international protection regime is facing extraordinary challenges. In 2015, the number of forcibly displaced individuals rose to 65.3 million, including 21.3 million refugees, 40.8 million internally displaced persons and 3.2 million asylum-seekers.

Canada has a strong and longstanding humanitarian tradition of resettling vulnerable people from around the world who have been persecuted and displaced and who seek our country’s protection. Maintaining that humanitarian tradition and ensuring that Canada continues to provide protection to those in need around the world is one of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s (IRCC) central mandates. In this regard, IRCC continues to engage with partners in the international arena, aiming to use our position as a leader in resettlement to further international discussions on best practices in protection.

The ultimate objective is for displaced populations to find solutions that allow them to rebuild their lives. Voluntary repatriation or local integration into the country of first asylum are solutions that should be carefully considered. Should these solutions not be available, resettlement may be the best option for some refugees. While resettlement is an important component of Canada’s broader humanitarian assistance efforts, it is only available to a very small percentage of the world’s vulnerable populations – less than one percent of all refugees identified by the UNHCR. It cannot therefore be Canada’s first and only response in addressing the protection needs of refugees or internally displaced persons. Long-term protection issues must ultimately be tackled through a coordinated and multi-faceted approach to addressing the root cause of situations of forced displacement. Humanitarian programming, including resettlement, cannot substitute for long-term development efforts or for political solutions to a conflict. Otherwise, these efforts, no matter how significant, will remain dwarfed by the scale of displacement and need for protection around the world.

Refugee law – mainly the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocols and the mandate of the UNHCR – provide the main framework for the international refugee protection regime. A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country of origin and who has a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, or who is seriously and personally affected by civil war or armed conflict or has suffered massive violation of human rights. In line with international practices, through the IRPA, Canada has established the Refugee Resettlement and In-Canada Asylum Programs to provide protection to refugees who are outside of their country of origin or former country of habitual residence. An internally displaced person is someone who is forced to flee his or her home but who remains within his or her country’s borders. They are often referred to as refugees, although they do not fall within the current legal definition of a refugee and there is no convention for internally displaced persons equivalent to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Canada’s Resettlement Program

The broad objectives of Canada’s Refugee Program are to save lives, offer protection to the displaced and persecuted, meet Canada’s international legal obligations with respect to refugees, and respond to international crises by providing assistance to those in need of resettlement. Providing protection to vulnerable populations in the form of resettlement to Canada is a critical and often life-saving intervention for refugees who have urgent protection needs and compelling vulnerabilities. Resettlement also demonstrates to the world that Canada has a shared responsibility to help those who are displaced, persecuted and most in need of protection.

Canadian officials rely on UNHCR, private sponsors and other referral organizations to identify and refer refugees for resettlement. This ensures Canada’s resettlement efforts focus on resettling the most vulnerable refugees, including priority populations and at-risk individuals determined by UNHCR to be in need of resettlement.

Refugees can be resettled to Canada through one of three streams. Government-Assisted Refugees are referred by the UNHCR or another designated referral agency and receive support from the Government of Canada (up to 12 months of income support and immediate and essential services). Privately sponsored refugees are referred by a Canadian sponsor, who must provide up to 12 months of income support as well as community and emotional support for one year. Blended Visa Office-Referred refugees are referred by the UNHCR and receive six months of income support from the Government of Canada, as well as six months of income support and emotional and community support from their sponsors.

Along with the United States and Australia, Canada is one of the top three resettlement countries in the world. In response to the Syrian refugee crisis, as of November 20, 2016, Canada has rapidly resettled nearly 35,147 Syrian refugees, which includes government-supported and privately sponsored refugees.  The year 2016 was extraordinary for Canada’s Refugee Resettlement Program, with an Annual Immigration Levels Plan that called for the resettlement of up to 44,800 refugees, tripling recent annual refugee resettlement figures. This commitment continues in 2017 as Canada has further committed to resettle an additional 25,000 refugees from across the globe. In the last three years, Canada has also provided protection to more than 27,000 refugees through its asylum system.

While a single country cannot help everyone who could benefit from protection, Canada has and will continue to undertake significant efforts to address the protection needs of vulnerable populations across the globe. The Committee’s Report has put forward several important recommendations, to which the Government responds below.

Recommendation 1: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada continue leading resettlement discussions at the international level with the objective of expanding the number of resettlement spaces available in light of the all-time high levels of forced displacement.

The Government of Canada accepts this recommendation. Resettling refugees is a proud part of Canada’s humanitarian tradition. The Government of Canada is committed to welcoming refugees openly and being a global leader in refugee resettlement.

The year 2016 has been an extraordinary one for the Canadian Resettlement Program, with planned resettlement spaces tripling historic levels. Canada’s commitment to resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees between November 4, 2015 and February 28, 2016, was an enormous success. The collaboration among federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal governments, various federal departments and agencies, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, advocacy groups and Canadian citizens, and the speed at which Canada was able to respond to this crisis, was unprecedented.

Canada is, therefore, in a unique position to positively influence outcomes for refugees across the globe. We continue to engage with our partners in the international arena, aiming to use our country’s position as a leader in resettlement, as well as an international leader when it comes to integrating immigrants (including refugees), to further international discussions on best practices in protection. An important example of this is our participation and leadership in the September 19, 2016, United Nations High Level Meeting on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, and the September 20 Leaders’ Summit on Refugees. This was a historic opportunity to bring world leaders together to find solutions to the global refugee crisis. As advanced during the summits, the Government of Canada committed to: 1) re-energizing the global political response for refugees and migrants by advocating for responsibility sharing; 2) mobilizing increased global resources for protection and assistance to forcibly displaced populations and to address root causes of displacement; 3) sharing the Canadian experience as an example of managed, orderly and safe migration to help inform other countries’ responses and capacity building; and 4) contributing to a more positive and balanced global narrative on migration and displacement.

In addition to making a number of significant commitments to increase Canada’s humanitarian assistance funding, Canada also announced that IRCC would increase the international capacity building work that it does in hopes of creating new resettlement spaces globally. The Canadian Resettlement Program, and particularly the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program, has been increasingly recognized as a successful model from which other countries can draw to establish alternative mechanisms and programs to support the resettlement of refugees. To this end, the Government of Canada has and continues to work closely with other countries to share information and best practices related to Canada’s model for the resettlement of refugees, as well as Canada’s integration policies and programs.

In addition to this ongoing capacity building work, Canada launched, at the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees held on September 20, 2016, a joint initiative with UNHCR and the Open Society Foundations to work together to increase private sponsorship of refugees around the world. As part of this new initiative, Canada will create a series of accessible private sponsorship training modules, based principally on the Canadian model for private sponsorship. It is hoped is that this project will complement other initiatives under development elsewhere in the world aimed at creating alternative pathways for refugee resettlement and mobilizing citizen groups in society.

Further, IRCC is actively engaged in efforts to influence the international protection and humanitarian agenda through various international fora, working bilaterally and multilaterally with UNHCR, other countries involved or interested in increasing their participation in global resettlement efforts, non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups and other stakeholders. IRCC is also actively engaged in efforts to increase global resettlement spaces through UNHCR’s Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement and its associated working groups, including UNHCR’s Core and Contact Groups, which aim to support coordinated, multi-annual approaches to resettlement for particular populations in need of protection. With regards to the latter, Canada was the chair of the Syria Core Group in 2015, which sought to advance a coordinated response to the emerging crisis in Syria. Further, IRCC collaborates with Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom through the Five Country Conference Resettlement Network in order to identify opportunities for greater and more strategic collaboration on refugee resettlement issues.

Canada is a longstanding member of the UNHCR Executive Committee and in 2016, Canada’s Ambassador to the UN, took over as the Chair. At the most recent annual Executive Committee meeting in October 2016, the Canadian delegation made statements reinforcing the importance of international responsibility sharing and spoke to the value of a whole-of-society approach to welcoming refugees. Moving forward, Canada will support UNHCR in the process of piloting of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, which will then be refined as the basis for the development of the Global Compact on Refugees. These are two key outcomes from the September summits. Canada will also continue to advocate for UNHCR to maintain a strong focus on solutions programming, further strengthen its partnerships, and respond to the protection needs of refugee women, children and youth.

Recommendation 2: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada accept prima facie refugee status for certain at-risk populations to facilitate their resettlement and reduce the burden on the UNHCR.

The Government of Canada accepts this recommendation. Canada has a long history of providing protection to people fleeing persecution in their homeland or displaced by conflicts. The recognition of prima facie refugee status is one of several tools at the disposal of IRCC to address the resettlement needs of at-risk populations, enabling the Government of Canada to be responsive to international humanitarian situations, including through international responsibility-sharing initiatives. Specifically, its use enables IRCC officers to expedite and simplify the refugee determination process, by focusing refugee interviews on security, criminality and medical screening and looking at refugee eligibility only when concerns arise. In all cases, IRCC relies on UNHCR guidance when deciding to recognize prima facie refugee situations.

In part, Canada was able to resettle a significant number of Syrian refugees over a short period of time by recognizing the Syrian crisis as a prima facie refugee situation. As part of a broader suite of measures implemented in September 2015 to facilitate the processing of Syrian refugee applications, IRCC issued operational guidance directing officers to assume that, unless there is compelling contrary evidence, it is likely that all Syrian refugee applicants – both those referred by UNHCR and private sponsors in Canada – are eligible for resettlement to Canada. IRCC continues to monitor the ongoing crisis in Syria and will update the guidance as the situation evolves.

IRCC has similarly recognized the situations facing other groups as prima facie refugee situations since 2003 to facilitate their resettlement in exceptional humanitarian circumstances. Examples include the resettlement of Somali Madhiban from the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in Kenya between 2003 and 2005, Karen refugees from the Mae La Ooon Maluang refugee camps in Thailand between 2006 and 2008, and Bhutanese refugees from Nepal between 2008 and 2015.

Going forward, IRCC will continue, in consultation with UNHCR, to assess which mechanisms or combinations thereof can best address the needs of at-risk populations on a situation-by-situation basis. IRCC fully intends to use all of the mechanisms at its disposal, including the recognition of prima facie refugee situations, where merited.

The Government of Canada also recognizes that with a sharp increase in the number of forcibly displaced persons year after year since 2011, the gap between protection needs and available resources continues to widen. To further contribute to reducing the burden on UNHCR, IRCC has supported UNHCR in recent years through: 1) direct grants through Global Affairs Canada; and 2) parallel funding to the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), which provides flexible surge capacity support to UNHCR field operations. This funding has supported the direct provision of services by UNHCR and ICMC, which are essential to Canada’s refugee processing activities across the world. Additionally, drawing on lessons learned from Canada’s experience in resettling Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016, IRCC has also advocated for and undertaken to assist UNHCR identify opportunities to streamline processing.

Recommendation 3: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada examine the feasibility of expanding the use of the Urgent Protection Program in cases where genocide is confirmed to be ongoing.

The Government of Canada accepts this recommendation. The Government recognizes that there are refugees in countries of asylum facing immediate and imminent threats to their life, liberty or physical safety, including in cases where genocide is confirmed to be ongoing. Where Canada is made aware of such situations, the Government is already able to respond by providing urgent resettlement for approximately 100 refugee cases a year through the Urgent Protection Program. The Urgent Protection Program ensures that Canada is able to respond to extremely urgent requests for resettlement of refugees under immediate threat of being returned home, expulsion or facing direct threats to their lives.

The Urgent Protection Program can include the resettlement of individuals at risk of genocide. Referrals to the Program are based on vulnerability and protection needs. Canada stands by its close collaboration with UNHCR in this regard as the international expert best placed to identify individuals in urgent need of protection under this program.

Where the number of individuals is significant, however, other resettlement mechanisms exist that may be more appropriate to respond to situations involving confirmed and ongoing genocide. Humanitarian public policies are a tool that IRCC has under the IRPA to facilitate immigration for humanitarian reasons, and they are typically used to respond to exceptional, specific, and temporary circumstances. IRCC maintains the flexibility to respond to specific and unique circumstances, such as situations involving confirmed and ongoing genocide through the ability to grant permanent residence based on humanitarian and compassionate considerations or public policy considerations.

IRCC is responsive to the plight of vulnerable groups. Victims of Da’esh, including Yazidi women and children who face persecution and violence, are one such group. As announced on
October 25, 2016, the Government of Canada is committed to offering protection to victims of Da’esh, including Yazidi refugees.

Furthermore, the Government of Canada is a strong advocate for human rights and will continue to play an active role internationally, including at the UN, with regards to addressing and preventing situations of human rights violations, including genocide. A comprehensive and whole of government response, of which resettlement would only be one component, would involve efforts at the bilateral and multilateral levels, including through diplomatic engagement and cooperation with the UN and other non-governmental organizations.

Recommendation 4: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider establishing a resettlement class for private sponsorship of persons in need of protection and residing in their country of origin similar to the Source Country Class.

The Government of Canada has the ability to respond to this recommendation within the existing legislative framework, primarily through public policies. The Government is deeply concerned by the plight of a record 65.3 million people who were displaced at the end of 2015, including the 40.8 million internally displaced persons. While refugee law – mainly the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees – provides the main framework for protection and assistance for refugees that are outside their country of nationality, there is no equivalent convention for those that are internally displaced as a result of conflict. It can, therefore, be challenging to provide protection to vulnerable, internally displaced persons through resettlement in the same way it is provided to refugees. Protection efforts for internally displaced persons are normally primarily provided through avenues that aim to bring an end to conflict, such as humanitarian assistance and diplomatic and other engagement.

Canada’s humanitarian assistance programming is context-specific and needs-based and, as such, is provided to people affected by conflict and natural disasters through experienced humanitarian partners that are able to identify and reach the most vulnerable. While it is difficult to track Canadian humanitarian assistance according to whether beneficiaries are internally displaced, some countries where Canadian humanitarian assistance has addressed the needs of internally displaced persons are: Afghanistan, Burma, Burundi, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Lebanon, South Sudan, and Syria. For example, Canada allocated $3 million in 2016 to UNHCR’s operations, which supports both the Afghan refugee response and other beneficiaries, including internally displaced persons. This approach ensures that Canada continues to address the needs of the most vulnerable, no matter their status. The Government of Canada has been and will continue to be highly engaged with key international partners on the ongoing global discourse on these types of protection efforts for internally displaced persons.

In exceptional cases, the Government of Canada has legal mechanisms to extend protection to particularly vulnerable groups or individuals through public policies. Public policies give the Minister discretionary authority to overcome the requirements of the IRPA in exceptional circumstances, including to address the diverse needs of persons in need of humanitarian assistance around the world. The public policy authority set out in section 25.2 of the IRPA for example, allows for the resettlement of internally displaced persons in a similar way to that of the now defunct Source Country Class provision. The Source Country Class was repealed in 2011 as it was found to be too restrictive as it only applied to people in countries designated in the Regulations; in order to change or add a country to that list, a regulatory change was required, which was a lengthy process. As a result, the Source Country class was, in practice, an inflexible tool which did not allow the Government to respond to emerging situations. The public policy provision is more flexible and better placed to respond to emerging situations in a timely way. This existing authority can effectively achieve the same objectives as the recommended creation of a new class for private sponsorship of persons in need of protection and residing in their country of origin. The creation of a new class is, therefore, unnecessary.

Additionally, on a case-by-case basis, the humanitarian and compassionate provisions under sections 25 and 25.1 of the IRPA provide the flexibility to grant permanent resident status, or an exemption from most requirements of the Act or Regulations to certain foreign nationals who would not otherwise qualify for an immigration class, if justified on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. These provisions are discretionary tools intended for use in exceptional circumstances. As such, there are no program eligibility criteria. Applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis, giving consideration to factors including, but not limited to, the best interests of any children, family re-unification, discrimination, and family violence. However, given the discretionary and exception nature of these provisions, they are more useful in addressing the unique circumstances of an individual case, rather than the needs of a vulnerable group of persons.

Recommendation 5: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada report its use of public policy based on humanitarian and compassionate considerations in the Departments’ annual report under section 94 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to allow for increased awareness of existing programs.

The Government of Canada supports this Recommendation. There are a number of ways in which IRCC ensures that both Parliament and Canadians are informed of progress with respect to the delivery of its programs. Under section 94 of the IRPA, the Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship is required to table an annual report to Parliament on the department’s immigration activities and initiatives. The report describes and provides the number of foreign nationals that were admitted to Canada as permanent and temporary residents during the preceding calendar year and communicates Canada’s immigration plan for the upcoming calendar year.

With respect to humanitarian and compassionate considerations more specifically, the Minister provides the number of persons who were granted permanent resident status for humanitarian and compassionate considerations under subsections 25(1), and 25.1(1), and for public policy considerations under section 25.2(1) of the IRPA. These subsections provide the Minister with the discretionary authority to address the diverse needs of persons in need of humanitarian assistance around the world. They are designed to enable the Minister to overcome the requirements of the IRPA in exceptional circumstances or in the case of section 25.2(1), when there is a specific public policy in place.

In addition to information provided in the Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, the department’s use of public policies as well as a description of each one and its eligibility criteria is, as a standard practice, published on the website. (Link: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/laws-policy/index.asp).

Public policies are used when the Minister deems it in the public interest to do so. There are limited instances when the Government of Canada is not able to publish a public policy, including when it may endanger either the groups being assisted or the staff at Canadian missions, or when it may negatively impact foreign relations and limit the Government’s ability to assist certain vulnerable groups in the future.

Conclusion

Responding to the global refugee crisis is a shared responsibility among governments, non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups, and civic society. Canada has a strong and longstanding humanitarian tradition of resettling vulnerable people from around the world who have been persecuted and displaced and who seek our country’s protection. The Government of Canada is committed to doing its part to help vulnerable populations across the globe.

Maintaining that humanitarian tradition and ensuring that Canada continues to provide protection to those in need around the world is one of IRCC’s central mandates. The department takes very seriously the challenge of helping vulnerable and displaced people around the world. We are moved as Canadian public servants by their plights, and we are highly motivated to address this challenge with policies and programs that are both compassionate and effective.