The average number of people forced to flee their homes as refugees doubled between 1997 to 2016. In 1997, 33.9 million people globally were displaced by war, persecution or severe human rights abuses compared to 65.6 million in 2016 – a record that remains to this day, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Often, these people can never return home and about one third are officially recognized as refugees.

Who is a refugee?

A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has fear of persecution for reasons such as race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence, sexual orientation and gender violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.

Refugees must qualify for entry under Canada’s laws and must pass medical and security checks before they can come to Canada.

What types of refugees does Canada recognize?

Refugees arrive under one of four categories as defined below:

Government-Assisted Refugee (GAR):

Under the GAR Program, refugees are referred to Canada for resettlement by the UNHCR. Individuals cannot apply directly and must register for refugee status with the UNHCR or with state authorities to be considered by a referral organization.

A GAR’s initial resettlement in Canada is entirely supported by the Government of Canada or the province of Quebec. This support is delivered by non-governmental agencies funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), of which ISSofBC is one.

GARs receive support up to one year from the date they arrive in Canada, or until they are able to support themselves, whichever happens first.

Privately-Sponsored Refugee (PSR):

A PSR is sponsored by a group of people in Canada committed to helping the individual adjust to life in Canada. The sponsorship group also assists the PSR with finding a place to live, financial support, social and emotional support and food and clothing expenses. The sponsorship group supports the PSR for one year after they arrive or until they can support themselves, whichever happens first.

Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program:

The BVOR Program matches refugees identified for resettlement by the UNHCR with private sponsors in Canada. Key features of the program are as follows:

• The UNHCR identifies the refugees;
• The Government of Canada provides up to six months of income support;
• Private sponsors are responsible for another six months of financial support, and up to a year of social and emotional support;
• The Interim Federal Health (IFH) Program and provincial health care cover refugees for the length of the sponsorship (one year).

Refugee Claimant:

A refugee claimant is “a person in need of protection” in Canada who cannot return to their home country safely because they could be subject to:

• danger or torture,
• risk to their life, or,
• risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.
Canada offers refugee protection to these individuals who must make a claim for refugee protection to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) to legally stay in Canada.

How many refugees does Canada accept?

The Canadian government sets an annual target for resettling refugees in the various categories. In 2016, Canada resettled 46,702 GARs and PSRs, a record for Canada since 1978 when the Immigration Act went into effect.

Of the 46,702 resettled refugees that arrived in 2016:

• 23,818 or 51% were GARs;
• 18,681 or 40% were PSRs; and,
• 4,203 or 9% arrived under the Blended Visa Office-Referred Program (BVOR).

According to the UNHCR, the top five countries of origin of refugees to Canada in 2016 were:

1. Syria: 33,266 (71%)
2. Eritrea: 3,934 (8%)
3. Iraq: 1,650 (4%)
4. Congo: 1,644 (3%)
5. Afghanistan: 1,354 (3%)

How many refugees does BC accept?

In 2016, BC resettled a total of 4,095 refugees. Of this total:

• 2395 or 58% were GARs;
• 1055 or 26% were PSRs; and,
• 645 or 16% came under the BVOR program

How many refugees are expected to be resettled between 2018 and 2020?

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada released its multi-year Immigration Levels Plan on November 1, 2017. Canada will welcome:

• 310,00 new permanent residents in 2018,
• 330,00 in 2019, and,
• 340,00 in 2020.

Outlined in this plan are targets for refugee and protected person arrivals to Canada:

Category 2018 2019 2020
Protected Persons in Canada and Dependents Abroad 16,000 16,500 17,000
Government-Assisted Refugees 7,500 8,500 10,000
Privately Sponsored Refugees 18,000 19,000 20,000
Blended Visa Office-Referred 1,500 1,650 1,700
Total Refugees and Protected Persons 43,000 45,650 48,700


What supports do Government-Assisted Refugees receive?

Government-Assisted Refugees (GARs) are refugees who are selected from abroad and resettled to Canada, arriving as permanent residents. The federal government is responsible for their selection and initial settlement in Canada. For example, GARs are eligible for federal government income support through the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) for up to one year after arrival.

Support services include:

  • temporary housing,
  • help with finding permanent housing,
  • help with registering for mandatory federal and provincial programs,
  • orientation to the community,
  • support for high-needs clients, and
  • referrals to other refugee and settlement programs.

Canada provides income support under RAP to eligible refugees who cannot pay for their own basic needs. Support can include:

  • one-time household start-up allowance, and
  • monthly income support payment.

The level of monthly financial support is generally based on the prevailing provincial social assistance rates in the province where the refugees settle. Financial support can last up to one year after a refugee arrives in Canada, or until they can support themselves, whichever occurs first.

How does ISSofBC Welcome Centre help?

ISSofBC’s Welcome Centre, located on 2610 Victoria Drive in Vancouver, is a world-class, integrated facility that provides temporary housing and service support for Government-Assisted Refugees and refugee claimants.

The Centre brings together under one roof, a broad range of services that addresses the immediate needs of immigrants and refugees who are new to Canada. These new arrivals have streamlined access to care through on-site services delivered by ISSofBC and several co-located partner organizations.

To learn more

BC Refugee Hub
ISSofBC Welcome Centre
The Canadian Council for refugees
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) – global statistics and data on refugees