Frequent questions about Syrian refugees and Canada

Sep 2015

Canada's response to Syrian refugees in context

Canada welcomes only a tiny percentage of the world’s refugees with less than 5 refugees per 1,000 population.

Canada ranked 41st in refugees per capita in 2014. Countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Chad, Kenya and even Sweden host more refugees per capita.

Number of refugees per 1,000 inhabitants (2014)

Source: UNHCR, Global Trends 2014: Excel Annex tables, Table 26

While the number of refugees in the world has been going up, Canada has been welcoming fewer refugees:

Refugees worldwide and in Canada

For more on Canada’s responses to refugees in context:

How generous is Canada towards refugees -

Canada's refugee acceptance falls far short of Stephen Harper's claims

Despite What Stephen Harper Said, Canada Does Not Lead the World In Taking In Refugees

From CBC News (fact check)

From Global News (fact check)

From the National Post (fact check)

Canada’s generosity to refugees an outdated myth

Where Syrians find their refuge

3 mistakes we keep repeating

Canada and refugee sponsorship

Every year thousands of refugees are resettled to Canada from another country where they are staying temporarily.

They may be living in a refugee camp, in urban areas or trying to survive in a country where they have no status and few, if any, rights. They may even be in detention or facing a risk of forced return to persecution. For them, resettlement to a third country such as Canada represents the only available solution. Resettlement provides protection and a durable solution (in other words, a permanent home).

The Canadian refugee resettlement program is composed of two categories:

  • Government-assisted refugees, who receive support on their arrival from the government.
  • Privately sponsored refugees, who receive support from private groups.

(from: About refugees in Canada and Canada’s response)

Private sponsorship: the basics

Unique in the world, Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program has allowed Canadians to offer protection and a new home to more than 225,000 refugees since its beginning in 1979.

  • Privately sponsored refugees are resettled refugees. In other words, they are approved overseas and arrive in Canada as permanent residents. (In addition to resettling refugees, Canada protects refugees who come to Canada and make a successful refugee claim.)
  • Private sponsors are groups of Canadians or organizations. Many sponsors represent faith-based communities. Others include ethno-cultural groups and settlement organizations. Quebec has its own, active process for refugee sponsorship.
  • Private sponsors provide financial support and settlement assistance for the refugees they sponsor, usually for one year after arrival.

(from: Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program: Proud history, uncertain future)

Interested in getting involved in refugee sponsorship?

Find out more through the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP)


For more on Canada and refugee sponsorship, see:

Refugee sponsorship can be a long, complex process – here’s how it works

What it takes to bring a Syrian refugee to Canada: Paperwork, interrogations and up to 18 months

Refugees and security in Canada

Refugees and others seeking protection in Canada are not threats to security – they are seeking security and protection from threats to their own lives.

It is far more difficult to enter Canada as a refugee than as a visitor. The refugee determination process involves security checks by CSIS and the RCMP, fingerprinting and interviews. It is not likely that a person intending to commit a violent act would expose themselves to such detailed examinations. Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act excludes refugee claimants and temporary residence permit applicants if they are found to be inadmissible on the basis of security, serious criminality, organized criminality or human rights violations.

Previous refugee resettlement efforts, including the emergency  airlift of 5,000 Kosovars in 1999, have not resulted in any major security concerns.

(source: Refugees and others seeking protection pose very little risk to Canada's security)

"We appreciate that the world has changed. We share concerns about the protection of the security of Canadians in the post-Sept. 11 world – but security cannot be an excuse for inertia. In addition to providing adequate screening personnel in the field, security risks can be mitigated by a focus on women at risk, families with children, and families with Canadian connections."

- Open letter to Stephen Harper, signed by former ministers, deputy ministers and other government officials

"Those refugees will tell you anybody that's different, anybody they suspect of having violent intentions or being a terrorist or being inserted into those crowds, and we can easily do the assessment....

"We've got to stop being frightened of our own shadow. You know, we live in a dangerous world. We handle it pretty well."

- retired general Rick Hiller 

For more on refugees and security in Canada, see:

Are Syrian refugees really a threat to Canadian security?

Syrian refugees aren’t a terrorist threat

Mr. Harper, think big on the refugee crisis

Rick Hillier says military can help bring in 50,000 refugees by Christmas

Refugees from religious minorities

Refugees must be selected for resettlement according to need.

To discriminate against refugees on the basis of religion goes against the fundamental international principles of refugee protection without discrimination.

Religious minorities in the region face persecution and will certainly be among those referred for resettlement by the UNHCR. There are also many Sunni Muslim refugees who face persecution. It would be very wrong for Canada to refuse vulnerable Muslim refugees who meet all the criteria for resettlement simply because of their religion.

For more information on refugees from religious minoriities, see:

Syrian Refugees: Discriminating by religion is unacceptable

Refugees' contributions in Canada

Refugees and their families make significant positive contributions to Canadian society, economically and socially, as leaders, artists, community workers and elders.

“Refugees that are actually employed, their incomes were on a par with economic immigrants, very much contradicting this notion that refugees are coming and acting as a drain for taxpayers and a drain on the Canadian economy” - Sharry Aiken, Professor of refugee law at Queen’s University

Many Canadians who came as refugees decades ago and who are now active members of society are eager to see Canada welcome Syrian refugees, as they were welcomed in the past:

"Canada’s generous and practical policy toward my family has been paid back many times over. My parents bought a house and became tax-paying, law-abiding citizens. My brother runs a high-tech company downtown Toronto and employs 20 people. And, yes, my dad paid back the loan for the airplane tickets." – Hamida Ghafour, former Toronto Star reporter

"A total of 11 of my parents' siblings were granted refugee status in Canada, the U.S. and Australia. And the children of these families have thrived, becoming doctors, teachers, ministers, engineers, pharmacists, urban designers, stock brokers and journalists. There isn't a closet Communist among them." – Judy Trinh, reporter with CBC Ottawa

“The Ugandan refugees that we brought in 1972, the Vietnamese boat people, the Czechoslovakian refugees in the late 1960s have all contributed immeasurably to the wealth, to the prosperity and to the community here in Canada.” - Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary

Have you heard rumours that refugees in Canada receive greater assistance from the government than pensioners?

For several years, a persistent chain email has been circulating claiming that refugees receive significantly more money in income assistance than Canadians collecting a pension.  The information, which is based on a letter published in the Toronto Star, is false. The record has been set straight by the federal government and the Canadian Council for Refugees.

Refugees come to Canada in different ways, but no matter the category, refugees receive very limited income assistance from the government.


For more on refugees’ contributions in Canada, see:

Refugee crisis: Our compassion repairs their souls. Their passion remakes our country

Flight and Freedom: Stories of escape to Canada, Ratna Omidvar and Dana Wagner, 2015.

Refugees pay more income tax than millionaire investor immigrants, March 2015.

What Canada can and should be doing

Canada can and must open its doors to refugees. In past refugee crises Canada has responded quickly and decisively. The same level of commitment is needed now.

The CCR recommends that Canada respond to the Syrian refugee crisis as follows:

  • Introduce flexible, family-linked admissions

Flexible measures (such as Temporary Resident Permits) should be introduced for Syrians with family in Canada.

  • Resettle 10,000 Government-Assisted Refugees by the end of 2015

The government should resettle a minimum of 10,000 Syrians, brought to Canada immediately. 

  • Facilitate the private sponsorship of Syrians

Canadians should be encouraged and supported in resettling additional numbers of Syrian refugees.

  • Commit to a dramatic increase in resources

The government must allocate significantly more resources (human, financial and logistical) in order to realize these recommendations. 

  • Convene a summit to plan medium and long term response

A national meeting should be convened involving all levels of government as well as representatives of civil society to plan Canada’s resettlement response beyond the end of 2015, and to discuss how to mobilize and coordinate contributions from all sections of society.

  • Maintain responses to other refugees

In responding to the urgent needs of Syrian refugees, the needs of other refugees must also be met. They should not be penalized because of the response to Syrians.

For the full recommendations, see:

Recommendations for a strong Canadian response to Syrian refugees

Action suggestions for Canadians wanting to sponsor or assist Syrian refugees

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Thousands of people right across Canada have stepped up to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis.

The following are some action suggestions particularly suited for those inspired to privately sponsor refugees. (For basic information about private sponsorship, consult this document. For sponsorships in Quebec, please read this page.)

  • Consider refugees from other regions

As huge as the Syrian refugee crisis is, Syrians are not the only refugees in need of protection and a permanent home. According to the UNHCR, a third of the more than a million refugees in need of resettlement are in Africa. There are generations of Somalis in Kenya who have never known life beyond a refugee camp. There are hundreds of thousands of Eritreans, Congolese and Sudanese desperately searching for a safe haven.

Whether you are planning to sponsor, donate, or volunteer, consider responding to refugees from other regions as well as Syrians.

  • Be careful not to discriminate

People of all profiles are forced to flee persecution, and we should respond according to need, not on the basis of age, gender, religion, etc. Currently, there are particular concerns that single men are sometimes being excluded from consideration. Yet some single men may be among the most vulnerable: torture and forced recruitment into armed groups are widespread in Syria and those targeted are often young men.

Consider how  to practise non-discrimination. If your group is keen to sponsor a family, could you sponsor a single person in addition?

  • Make connections with others in your community

Have you connected with Syrian Canadians in your community? If you are looking for someone to sponsor, Syrian Canadians may have some suggestions. Or if you are open to other nationalities, connect with others in your community who will be happy to identify people in need of sponsorship.

Having such connections will also help inform and prepare you for the arrival of the people you have sponsored.

Consider also reaching out to faith communities. For non-Muslims sponsoring Muslim refugees, it is helpful to educate yourselves about the faith and about resources available in your community (although we shouldn’t make assumptions about whether or how people will practise their religion). There are also many interesting examples of different faith communities supporting each other in their sponsorship initiatives.

  • Learn about refugees and Canada’s responses to refugees

Take some time to learn more about refugees. One place to start is the website of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) and in particular this page:

Read the CCR’s statement: Rebuilding a warm Canadian response to refugees from around the world

Be inspired by CCR’s Seven Keys to Protecting and Welcoming Refugees and Newcomers: A vision for Canada

  • Advocate for reform of the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program

The response to the Syrian refugee crisis gives wonderful new momentum to Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program. However, the Program is facing dramatic challenges, and it will be difficult to sustain people’s involvement unless barriers and delays are overcome.  

Learn about these challenges and join the CCR in advocating for changes to the program:

For more information:

  • Advocate for refugee family reunification

Canada routinely takes years to reunite children overseas with their refugee parents in Canada. Join the CCR in advocating for Express Entry Family Reunification:

  • Make use of available resources to prepare yourself for private sponsorship

Model code of ethics for private sponsors,

Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP) has many resources (some aspects do not apply to sponsorships to Quebec).

For more information on details of sponsorship to Quebec, see (in French)