August 11, 2000

Introductory Remarks

1. CIC’s document entitled "Managing the Flow of Applications: A Discussion Paper" reflects on the management of Canada’s resettlement program in the face of proposed policy changes which would broaden eligibility as well as provide increased flexibility. Although these changes will mean that the numbers of refugees eligible for Canada’s resettlement program may increase, it is not expected that increased funds will be available for resettlement – and therefore overall admissions through the government’s program are unlikely to increase.

2. At the same time, Canada wishes to be more responsive to resettlement needs of refugees around the world. This means facing the additional challenge of shifting resettlement processing to parts of the world where logistics may be difficult. Given these combined challenges, CIC is concerned about the ability of Canadian missions overseas to cope. The paper argues:

"Developing a system which is flexible but which attract applications in numbers well beyond announced targets will cause processing delays, confusion, poor use of resources and will undermine the credibility of the program as a whole.." 3. In particular, the paper is concerned about two areas:
  1. How to manage the number of resettlement admissions each year under the government-assisted/joint assistance program;
  2. How to manage the demands placed on missions to select refugees for all programs, including screening/selecting privately sponsored refugees who, while not dependent on government funding, still require processing by Canadian officials overseas.
4. The paper seeks to stimulate discussion about appropriate responses to these new challenges, taking account of the following considerations: 5. As well as taking into account the following needs: Managing Admissions

6. The paper outlines the ways Canada currently manages applications:

7. While each year Canada has met its overall target for government-assisted refugees, it has had to struggle to reach this objective, and has not managed to do so for privately sponsored refugees. Even though some policy changes are already in place which increase the numbers eligible for resettlement, Canada’s targets do not seem to be under pressure. In the first six months of 2000 Canada landed only 3,376 of the 7,300 annual target. In Africa, the region where Canada wishes to enhance its program, modified selection criteria do not seem to be yielding greater numbers. In the first six months of 2000, Canada resettled only 337 refugees of the 1875 refugees it plans to resettle from Africa this year.

8. While eligibility and admissibility criteria have limited Canada’s resettlement intake, the program appears to be driven mainly by the resources allocated. This includes not only the number of spaces made possible by the $44 million dollar RAP budget, but also the (human) resources available at Canadian missions to process refugees for resettlement.

9. The latter constraint poses a problem for UNHCR. In response to resettlement needs, UNHCR would expect to be able to submit resettlement cases -- and have them considered -- throughout the year. Indeed, Canadian missions are supposed to treat refugee resettlement as a priority. However, the activity of visa posts often seems to reflect either the pursuit of targets (when there is a processing shortfall) or the avoidance of processing, if the post has met its annual target. In some cases it also reflects the frequency of selection trips. Some visa posts are not able to achieve targets without additional assistance, and Temporary Duty officers are sent to assist with refugee processing. Unfortunately, the use of temporary duty officers has at times resulted in situations where UNHCR is asked to make bulk submissions to fit the schedule of the visiting officer. Some UNHCR offices report being told that the visit of a temporary duty officer would be the "only chance" to submit cases for an entire year. This approach is obviously not responsive to needs and makes prioritisation difficult.

Resettlement Priorities

10. UNHCR supports Canada’s objectives of increased emphasis on protection and flexibility in its resettlement program. As stated in the UNHCR Handbook on Resettlement, UNHCR urges governments to implement programs which are:

11. As noted in "UNHCR Comments on CIC Paper "Refugee Resettlement Eligibility and Selection Criteria: Implementation of Policy" UNHCR urges Canada to prioritize resettlement based on a hierarchy of needs. This is the approach taken by UNHCR. The Handbook identifies refugees within the following categories as needing resettlement: 12. Within these categories the highest resettlement priority is given to refugees with legal and physical protection needs. As the Resettlement Handbook notes, "…in cases not related to immediate protection concerns, particularly those falling under the criteria of lack of local integration prospects, a decision to refer for resettlement may be influenced by the availability of spaces."

13. Canada could apply a similar "hierarchy of needs" approach in prioritising resettlement. This would mean giving highest priority to refugees whose physical and legal protection needs are the greatest. Refugees with special needs and family reunification considerations would be given second priority, and other refugees in need of a durable solution would be resettled thereafter, based on the availability of places.

14. Approaching resettlement needs on the basis of such priorities would help to ensure that refugees with the greatest protection needs are given highest attention. It would be responsive to emergency situations and would be transparent.

15. In fact, Canadian missions should already be working on the basis of a similar system of priorities. OP4: Overseas Selection and Processing of Convention Refugees Seeking Resettlement and Members of the Humanitarian Designated Classes outlines a set of processing priorities. While some missions give greater emphasis to urgent protection cases, it is UNHCR’s understanding that this priority system is not (yet) systematically respected. UNHCR supports OP4’s priority system, with the following suggested amendments (in italics):

Priority 1: Cases identified as being in need of urgent protection especially if referred by UNHCR

Priority 2: Cases where the applicant appears to be a member of vulnerable or ‘at risk group’ or would benefit from family reunification, especially if referred by UNHCR for this purpose

Priority 3: Other cases presented for resettlement by UNHCR, or other referral agents, and privately sponsored

Priority 4: Other cases (self-identified or walk-ins)

New Management Strategies

16. In addition to reviewing existing management tools, the paper also explores alternative approaches which could affect Canada’s resettlement program.

Overall Numerical Limits:

17. Budgetary realities make numerical limits or targets inevitable. Canada’s resettlement levels or targets have been a significant part of how Canada currently manages resettlement. While numerical limits are predictable, once they are met, Canada may not necessarily remain responsive to additional resettlement needs.

18. Furthermore, an approach based on numerical limits would run counter to the guidelines that there should be no ceilings on private sponsorship. Any management approach should be sufficiently flexible to respond to urgent situations, regardless of the numerical limit. One way this could be addressed would be by setting aside an annual contingency reserve, which could be used for unforeseen individual cases or groups during the year. Any places remaining toward year's end could then be allocated to posts with a surplus of qualified candidates.

Delegated Power to Establish a Limit Where Numbers Warrant:

19. This proposal would allow a visa post to stop receiving applications if it is overwhelmed and incapable of responding to resettlement requests. UNHCR would urge caution with regard to this approach. Certainly before processing is halted, CIC would need to assess perhaps together with UNHCR or other partners why the number of applicants is so high and whether Canada should expand capacity to respond.

20. This approach contradicts the objective of not limiting private sponsorships. A mission might be overwhelmed because did not adequately anticipate the number of private sponsorship applications. Given the importance of private sponsorship for Canada, sponsorship trends need to be followed and taken into consideration when resources are allocated to missions.

21. Overall, as a management tool, limits or temporary processing stops are not very effective. They postpone but do not solve the problem of backlogs, and may have the undesired effect of promoting irregular movements, as refugees look for a post where their applications will be considered.

22. In order for UNHCR to be able to play its protection role, it would be important that processing limits not apply to UNHCR-referred cases.

Designated Refugee Processing Centres

23. Canada’s responsiveness is already limited by the reality that only designated Canadian missions may process immigration and refugee applications. Further limiting the number of missions processing refugees for resettlement would further reduce Canada’s responsiveness.

24. Experience has shown that Canada tends to process refugees for resettlement where it has the capacity to do so, and not necessarily where the most acute need lies. UNHCR fears that the designation of refugee processing centres might not necessarily be based on where the greatest needs exist, but rather on where Canada has the processing capacity. This would not serve the stated goal of a responsive program.

25. This approach could also undermine policy advances in other areas. Limiting the number of refugee processing centres might be a barrier to the one year window of opportunity policy for family reunification, if dependant family members of refugees resettled to Canada cannot reach a designated refugee processing centre. If Canada were to remove the Source Country schedule requirement, but then limited processing to designated refugee processing centres, this would simply be a new barrier.

26. Resettlement needs exist throughout the world. If the number of processing posts is reduced, UNHCR would at the very least wish to have an alternative referral mechanism, so that it could present resettlement applications to Canada on behalf of refugees located in areas not designated as a refugee processing centre.

Application by Referral Only

27. UNHCR does not oppose the establishment of a referral process. However, UNHCR would not wish to be the sole source of referrals, nor does it wish to be a "vetting" agent for Canada’s resettlement program. UNHCR does not have the resources to do this. Referral capacity could be expanded through the designation of one or more overseas service providers. While an overseas service provider could usefully be the source of additional referrals to the Canadian program, UNHCR would like an assurance that the cases it submits to Canada would be sympathetically considered, on a priority basis.

Use of the Priority System

28. As noted earlier, UNHCR supports a system based on priorities. While an access management system may include other control mechanisms, a priority system is key to ensuring that urgent cases are treated with the attention they merit.

Excluding Persons Located in Signatory Countries in Good Standing

29. As a rule, UNHCR does not promote resettlement for refugees who can find protection where they are, and this usually means in countries party to the 1951 Convention which have implemented the Convention in national law and practice. Nevertheless, establishing a list of "signatory countries in good standing" would be difficult. Flexibility is important, in that there will always be individual cases or groups in need of resettlement, despite the fact they are located in "signatory countries of good standing". In addition, there must continue to be recognition of the need for burden-sharing in specific circumstances.

Interview Waiver Based on Dossier Referrals by UNHCR

30. UNHCR welcomes this proposal and views it as an important step toward reducing processing times for certain cases, as well as improving responsiveness. This mechanism could provide a means for Canada to expand its urgent protection response capacity to other areas of the world beyond the current three processing centres under the Urgent Protection Pilot. It would also be a useful complement to some of the other management tools being considered.

Proposed Option

31. The paper concludes by proposing a hybrid model for discussion:

32. The strength of this proposal is that it would be based on priorities.

However, it would concentrate Canada’s resettlement program in particular areas of the world. Mechanisms to make Canada’s program responsive or accessible to other areas may not prove easily workable. Even if a senior official is empowered to amend the list of designated processing centres, experience shows, (as in the case of the source country schedule) that once such lists are established, it is often difficult to change them. Also, even if a new processing centre is designated, resources would be required to support such a designation, and a shift of resources would not necessarily be able to take place in a timely manner. For immigration program managers at missions not designated as refugee processing centres, the paper proposes that they could ask to have cases considered for resettlement. Realistically, given the other demands upon them and the reality that they are under no obligation to do this, program managers would not necessarily take advantage of this opportunity.

33. UNHCR recognises Canada’s management concerns. However, some of the management proposals in the paper risk undermining the gains made or proposed eligibility and flexibility. Admission levels have not shown themselves to be a problem for Canada. Instead, Canada appears to be struggling with processing applications and preventing backlogs. Proposals to put ceilings on admissions or to limit the number of posts processing refugees tend only to shift or postpone problems.

34. In summary, UNHCR would urge Canada’s to base its resettlement program on a priority system to be sure that it is responding to those in greatest need, and to maintain a program which can operate in any region of the world. The program should permit rapid processing of urgent protection cases and ensure that places are available for refugees with special needs and family reunification cases. All other resettlement applicants should be considered in as timely a manner as is possible. Canada should also develop the interview waiver proposal not only as a means to be more responsive to UNHCR requests, but because it would eliminate a step in the resettlement process, thus freeing up extra resources.

UNHCR Ottawa
11 August 2000