Sat | Jan 19, 2019

Immigration Corner | How do I qualify as a refugee?

Published:Tuesday | February 13, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Dear Ms Powell,

I hear that Canada accepts a lot of refugees each year. How do I qualify to be a refugee?

- AC

Dear AC,

Canada is one of the many countries that accept individuals who have a genuine fear of remaining in their own country if they are able to prove that there is a legitimate and well-founded fear of persecution. That is because Canada is committed to protecting the life, liberty, and security of individuals. This policy is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. Canada is a signatory to the Geneva Convention and a strong supporter of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

To qualify, you must be able to show tangible evidence that your persecution is based on race, gender, nationality, political opinion, membership of a particular group, or show some special circumstances that require the protection of Canada.

Another critical factor is that you must be outside of your country of origin and unable to return because of the genuine fear that if you were to return to home country, you would be personally subjected to harm, danger, torture, cruel and unusual treatment, and that you will not receive protection from the government.

There are citizens of some countries whose cases may be expedited since their country is on the list of 'Designated Country of Origin' based on the knowledge that there are some countries that do not respect human rights or offer state protection. The Designated Countries of Origin policy was implemented to prevent the abuse of the Canadian refugee system by people who come from countries that are generally considered safe. Therefore, individuals from these countries usually have their claims heard within 45 days by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Some of the countries on this list are Andorra, Chile, Cyprus, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Slovenia, Latvia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States (to name a few).

Lately, many individuals who are in the US have been trying to claim asylum in Canada because of fears about their status in the US. However, if you do not have status in the US or are at risk of losing your Temporary Protected Status in the US, this is not sufficient ground for a refugee claim in Canada. Most importantly, if individuals appear at the Canadian border and claim refugee status and their application fails, they will be sent back to their country of origin.

You should also know that there are some cases that will not qualify for application at the Canada-US border, for example, if you do not have relatives in Canada or you do not qualify under public interest category, so your application could be rejected.

Therefore, if you appear at the border of the US and Canada you cannot apply for refugee status in Canada because Canada has an agreement with the United States where people who want to make a refugee claim must do so in the first safe country they arrive in, provided they are not American citizens.

You did not state the reason why you want to make a refugee claim. However, here is a list of successful scenarios: A woman who was repeatedly abused by her husband in a country where spousal abuse is tolerated; members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or sometimes questioning), two-spirited community; individuals who have been persecuted because of race, ethnicity, or religion; political activists; witness of a massacre committed by the militia.

I recommend that you consult with an immigration lawyer to find out the necessary evidence you will need to provide and to find out if you have a strong case.

- Deidre S. Powell is a lawyer, mediator, and notary public who is a member of the Jamaican and Ontario, Canada bars, with main office located in Ottawa, Ontario. Email: Subject line: Immigration. Find her on or call 613.695.8777.