August 11, 2000

Introductory Remarks

1. The discussion paper "Refugee Family Reunion: Implementation of Policy" focuses on the operational steps required to ensure that refugee families are processed concurrently and, where this is not possible, that they are rapidly reunited in Canada. UNHCR supports this effort, as the unity of the refugee family is a fundamental principle, enshrined in the Final Act of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

2. The discussion paper focuses on the concurrent processing of extended and de facto family members and the one-year window of opportunity policy. It identifies outstanding issues not already addressed in OP4 and proposes regulatory and policy amendments needed to implement the policy principle.

3. Regarding concurrent processing, it examines:

4. Regarding the "one year window" for processing of family members, it examines: 5. Article 16(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes that "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State." In reflection of this principle, the final Act of the 1951 Convention recommends Governments take the necessary measures to ensure "that the unity of the refugee's family is maintained particularly in cases where the head of the family has fulfilled the necessary conditions for admission to a particular country." Behind this recommendation is the notion that refugee status is derivative, that is, that once the head of family (or spouse) has been recognised as a refugee in his or her own right, this status should extend to other family members. The rationale is obvious: the unity of the family is to be protected, and the family cannot reunite in the country of origin.

6. In general, UNHCR can support the proposals in the paper as moving in the right direction. Nevertheless, UNHCR is concerned about some of the limitations established. For instance, the one year window of opportunity policy is a step forward, but appears to be an arbitrary restriction. Why would family members who can only be processed after one year be subject to a different regime? Similarly, UNHCR supports the policy of including dependent extended or de facto family members in the core family, as UNHCR supports an approach to the definition of family which is based in dependency. However, it seems illogical that this would only apply to those processed concurrently, and not to those processed subsequently.

Non Co-located Family Members

7. OP4 provides that non co-located family -- that is, family members who can be identified but who are not residing with the applicant -- may be resettled concurrently with the principal applicant, under the same category as the principal applicant, if they are in a country of asylum. However, this approach would not apply to family members still within the country of origin.

8. The discussion paper proposes amending the regulations, so that concurrent processing of all dependants under the same class can be incorporated into the regulations, regardless of their location. UNHCR would welcome such an amendment. However, the admission of family members from countries of origin should not impinge upon the availability of resettlement places for refugees from countries of asylum.

Application of Selection Criteria

9. The paper proposes that the "settlement ability" of the extended or de facto family member be evaluated not in an isolated manner, but as part of the entire family. It notes that with the development of new regulations for Bill C-31, it may be possible to exempt extended or de facto family from this assessment. As explained on previous occasions, UNHCR does not believe that lack of adequate "settlement potential" should be a barrier to admission. An exemption for extended or de facto family would be welcome. If an assessment is nonetheless made, UNHCR urges that extended or de facto family members be evaluated as part of an overall assessment of the settlement capacity of the family.


10. The paper notes that some extended and de facto family would not qualify for a transportation loan, and, because Immigration Regulations limit the principal applicant’s loan to dependent family, would not be eligible to have their transportation cost added to the loan given to the principal applicant. Furthermore, unless, the family is being admitted as a JAS, the family, including the extended family member, is not eligible for a contribution (non-recoverable loan).

11. UNHCR is concerned that the eligibility test for a loan not become a barrier to admission. UNHCR believes that this issue can be easily addressed by either amending the Immigration Regulations so that an extended or de facto family member’s loan could be added to the principal applicant’s loan, or by leaving issues regarding who is covered by a loan to the loan agreement. Similarly, the rules concerning contributions could be amended so that extended or de facto family could be eligible for a contribution regardless of whether or not they are admitted to Canada under a JAS.

One Year Window of Opportunity

12. UNHCR believes that refugee families should be entitled to reunite in Canada without the requirement that any remaining family be sponsored under the family class or demonstrate an independent fear of persecution. As previously noted, while UNHCR supports the objective underlying the one year "window of opportunity", it remains concerned about dependent family members who cannot be processed within one year. UNHCR urges that when family members were reasonably unable to apply within the one year window, visa officers have the discretion to resettle remaining dependants (including extended or de facto dependants) as refugees.

Concept of Following Dependants

13. Current Immigration Regulations imply (but do note state explicitly) that processing of dependent family members is to be done concurrently. If the principle of the unity of the family is accepted, then efforts need to be made to reunite refugee families when concurrent processing is not possible. The paper proposes two ways to incorporate the concept of subsequent processing in the Regulations:

14. UNHCR would welcome regulatory amendments which would provide a stronger legal foundation to the one year window of opportunity principle, so that dependent family members may face fewer difficulties being reunited. Nevertheless, UNHCR remains concerned about the limitation previously identified: that eligibility ends after one year and that extended/de facto dependants may not be included.


15. In order to operationalize the one year window of opportunity, the paper proposes that:

16. If relatives are not included on the initial application, but are presented later as dependants, the paper notes that "…a balance must be struck between the nature of the misrepresentation and the fact we are dealing with people in need of protection."

17. UNHCR believes there are various reasons why a refugee may not have included family members on his or her initial application. A refugee may fear that acknowledging dependant(s) would undermine the chance of resettlement. Also, errors on IMM8s are not uncommon. Already, it is routine for visa officers to correct IMM8 applications when interviewing applicants. Given the problems with translation, the fact that other people often help refugees to complete applications, the prevalence of rumour and misinformation in the refugee community, there must be a mechanism for consideration of dependent family members under the one year window of opportunity, even if they were not listed on the principal applicant’s IMM8.

Selection Process

18. As previously noted, the admission of family members from countries of origin should not impinge upon the availability of resettlement places for refugees from countries of asylum.

UNHCR Ottawa
11 August 2000