Asylum Seekers | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Asylum Seekers

Asylum seekers are migrants seeking international protection in a country other than their own. Unlike refugees, their asylum applications are still being processed or have not yet been approved. Therefore, they don't yet have refugee status. (See Canadian Refugee Policy.)

According to data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 91,870 people claimed asylum in Canada in 2022. That is an increase of 67 per cent since 2018.

International Law

Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right: everyone has the right to enter a country to seek protection. However, it is the country in which the person is seeking asylum that decides whether the individual can become a refugee and thus be protected by international law. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution." Similarly, the 1951 Refugee Convention sets out "the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them." Its core principle is "non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom."

Une demandeuse d'asile entre au Canada au Chemin Roxham

Canada's Asylum System

In Canada, the right to asylum is guaranteed by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (see Canadian Refugee Policy). Canada and the United States signed a Safe Third Country Agreement in 2002, establishing that both countries are safe ― meaning that they are considered to respect human rights and offer good protection to those seeking asylum. According to this agreement, individuals are required to apply for asylum in the first of the two countries in which they arrive.

The Refugee Protection Division (RPD) of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) is the independent judicial body dealing with asylum claims. Asylum is granted if the RPD establishes that the individuals fall within the definition of refugee in the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, or if they qualify as a person in need of protection.

Refugees are people who have left their country of origin, nationality or residence and who have been unable to obtain the protection of that country. They fear persecution because of their religion, nationality, political opinion, race or membership of a social group, such as people of a particular sexual orientation or gender identity, women experiencing violence or HIV-positive people.

As for the people to be protected, they have left their country of origin and cannot return there at the risk of being tortured, killed or subjected to "cruel and unusual" treatment or punishment.

To be granted refugee status, asylum seekers must be able to demonstrate that they would be in danger of being subjected to torture, cruel treatment or punishment, or that their life would be threatened if they returned to their country of origin, country of nationality or, if they do not have one, country of habitual residence.

Some people can request special support measures from the RPD, if they are considered "vulnerable" and are not fully able to present their request to the commission. For example, they may be survivors of torture, crimes against humanity, genocide or violence (gender-based violence if female, or violence related to sexual or gender identity). This also applies to minors, the elderly and the mentally ill.

A refugee claim may be ineligible if there are serious reasons to believe that the person has committed an act contrary to the values of the United Nations, a crime against humanity, a war crime, a crime against peace or a serious crime before entering Canada. Applications are also rejected if it is decided that the individuals are not in need of protection, as they "have rights and obligations similar to those of a citizen" in the country where they have established residence.

Those whose applications have been denied can appeal to the Refugee Appeal Division.

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