One year on: Refugees must be exempted from the pandemic travel and border bans!

The Canadian Council for Refugees calls on the Government of Canada to recognize that refugee travel is essential, and to introduce exemptions to the pandemic travel measures for people being resettled as refugees and those entering to make a refugee protection claim.

One year ago, as Canada was locking down in response to the pandemic, new travel rules were introduced that severely blocked entry to the country by refugees. These bans led to:

  • Canada denying entry to refugees in need of resettlement, unless they had their permanent resident visa issued as of March 18, 2020.
  • Canada turning away people seeking refugee protection at the US-Canada border. This is in violation of our most fundamental legal obligations towards refugees.

After one year, we can no longer claim that this is a short, temporary measure. We know that we can protect public health while respecting our legal and humanitarian obligations towards refugees.

An exemption to travel and border bans for people seeking refugee protection in Canada is long overdue!

Refugees are at risk while waiting for resettlement

Refugees abroad awaiting resettlement to Canada live in precarious circumstances, often in situations of prolonged displacement. The pandemic has only added to their vulnerability.

Thousands of refugees had their applications for resettlement to Canada interrupted by the lockdown and travel ban. They are people who have been sponsored by groups in Canada or referred to Canada by the UNHCR because of their particular vulnerability. They cannot safely wait indefinitely for Canada to lift the travel ban.

People are turned back to the US where they are detained

Under the border ban, people trying to make a refugee claim in Canada are “directed back” to the U.S., where they are handed over to U.S. authorities. Some have been immediately detained and spent months in detention, in appalling conditions, particularly in the COVID context. One has already been deported back to his country of origin; several others are under imminent threat of deportation. Their rights are being violated.

Refugees rights and public health can both be protected

Over the past twelve months we have seen that people can be safely resettled to Canada or enter to make a claim, without compromising public health. Government agencies, sponsors and NGOs collaborate to ensure that all necessary measures such as quarantine and mandatory COVID testing are implemented.

The Canadian public is ready to welcome refugees

Over the past year, many community organizations and individuals have shown that they are willing and able to safely welcome those few who have been able to enter – and have developed the tools and resources to extend the welcome to more of those who are in urgent need of a safe home in Canada.

March 2021