Canada to End Source-Country Class for Refugees

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There are three types of refugee classes for refugees that are re-settled from abroad. These are the Convention Refugees Abroad Class, the Country of Asylum Class, and the Source Country Class.  Minister Kenney has introduced regulatory changes to eliminate the Source Country Class.

In the Convention Refugees Abroad Class, Canada works with the UNHCR to resettle refugees located outside their country of origin.  This is by far the most significant re-settlement class.

The Country of Asylum Class is for individuals who are in refugee type situations (i.e., they have fled persecution and are outside their country of origin) but who do not qualify as 1951 Convention Refugees.

The Source Country Class allows residents of designated countries to apply directly to Canada for refugee status from inside those countries.   The designated countries are currently Columbia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Sudan, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  To be eligible, in addition to living in one of these six countries, applicants must be seriously and personally affected by civil war or armed conflict, have been detained without charges or punished for an act that in Canada would be considered a legitimate exercise of civil rights pertaining to political dissent or trade union activity, or have a fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

In justifying its decision to scrap the Source-Country Class, the government identified three key issues that prevented the Source Country Class from meeting its objective.

1. Many persons of concern to Parliamentarians and Canadians are not eligible for resettlement under the source country class because they do not live in a designated source country. Changing the schedule of designated source countries requires a regulatory amendment, which makes the class impractical for responding in a timely way to humanitarian crises. The schedule has changed only four times since 1997, with the same six countries remaining listed for over 10 years. This suggests that the class lacks the flexibility originally intended.

2. […] Direct access was granted in the six source countries to accommodate applications from source country class nationals. However, the provision is also being used by non-nationals residing in the source countries who would normally be required to have a referral or a private sponsor, since Canada cannot restrict the application of direct access based on nationality. As a result, any foreign national living in a source country may use the direct access provision to apply for resettlement without a referral. This was not the intent when direct access was granted in these countries…. In some countries, processing capacity has been overwhelmed.

3. Without referral organizations to work with potential applicants, vulnerable persons of concern are in some source countries unable to access the application or the mission. Some do not have access to regular mail, telephone or Internet service. They may lack the skills required to read and fill out an application in English or French, or the ability to physically go to a visa office. In other cases, potential applicants may not even be aware that they are eligible for Canada’s resettlement program and so they do not apply.

In reading over the rationale as published in the Gazette, a fourth, significant, reason becomes apparent.  While the Canadian embassy in Columbia received over 4,500 applications under the Source Country Class annually, hardly anyone else applied in the designated countries.  In Sierra Leone and Sudan, fewer than 100 applications have been submitted in each country.  In the Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, and Guatemala, fewer than 350 applications have been submitted.  In Columbia, meanwhile, the only country where there seems to be a significant number of applications, the acceptance rate is a paltry 13%, with some years being apparently as low as 14%.

While the first two justifications above can arguably be addressed through modifications to the program and the closing of an obvious loophole, the latter two suggest that limited government resources might best be spent working with the UNHCR to implement its mandate.

The refugee spaces that had been allocated to the source-country class will be reallocated to the Convention Refugees Abroad Class.  The UNHCR has indicated that it can meet the increased demand.

Applications under the source-country class that have been approved in principle will be processed, and candidates who meet the criteria will be allowed to immigrate.  Those not already approved in principle will be reassessed under the remaining refugee resettlement classes.