By: Brandon Bailey on
Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and candidate for Ajax—Pickering, in an interview on September 2, 2015
One in ten refugees who go through formal resettlement programs arrived in Canada in 2014. Alexander’s claim is true only for this subset of refugees. People who were resettled last year accounted for less than one per cent of all refugees (0.54 per cent, to be more precise).FactsCan Score: True
After the image of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach made international headlines, Chris Alexander, the immigration minister, spoke to CBC about Canada’s refugee system. He said, “we are the most generous country to refugees in the world. We take one in ten resettled refugees annually.”
This check focuses on just the latter part. Does Canada take one in ten resettled refugees? It depends on who you call a refugee, and which entry programs you count.
Definitions: Refugees and resettlement
Refugees are people outside their country due to a well-founded fear of persecution, according to international law. Usually, the persecution is due to race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion, but people fleeing war are commonly considered refugees even without one of these reasons.
Refugee status is key when counting the number of refugees entering countries like Canada. Official status is given by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or by a national government. There are more people in refugee-like situations than officially recognized refugees. The UNHCR recorded 60 million displaced people around the world in 2014, of whom 19.5 million were recognized refugees, 1.8 million new asylum seekers, and 38.2 million internally displaced.
Alexander’s claim has the term “resettled.” Resettlement is defined by the UNHCR as the transfer of refugees from a temporary host country to another country that has agreed to provide a permanent home. For example, a Syrian refugee temporarily in Lebanon who is then allowed into Canada as a permanent resident, is a resettled refugee. Not all refugees who make it to Canada are considered resettled. It depends how they arrive, which can happen two ways. One is by showing up and seeking asylum at or within Canadian borders. A second is by formal government resettlement programs.
The numbers: Resettled refugees
Canada took in around one in ten refugees worldwide who went through formal resettlement programs in 2014. According to the UNHCR, Canada admitted 12,300 refugees in 2014, which is roughly 12 per cent of the total 105,200 people, or over one in ten resettled refugees.
The proportion more or less holds over time. Another UNHCR report with data from 2009 to 2013 shows Canada is responsible for 8 per cent, 9 per cent, 11 per cent, 7 per cent, and 7 per cent of UNHCR-resettled refugees, respectively, for those years. On average over this five-year period, Canada resettled 6,002 refugees per year compared to a global average of 71,977 total refugees per year. That’s an average of 8 per cent of resettled refugees, or under one in ten.
The proportion holds for pledged intake of Syrian refugees. At the time of writing, the UNHCR recorded 73,863 pledges for resettlement and other forms of admission by countries to receive Syrian refugees, not including an open-ended pledge by the United States and additional places or visas granted by Argentina, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. To date, there are 104,410 places for Syrian refugees globally. Canada, with 11,300 spots, accounts for 11 per cent of the total. Caveats here are that these are not annual spots, and pledges are not always met.
Canada has one of the highest rates of formal resettlement in the world, second only to the US and, sometimes, third to Australia. Canada and Australia are typically neck-and-neck, far below the US, which between 2009 and 2013, averaged 52,046 UNHCR-referred refugees, or more than eight times greater than Canada.
So it’s true that Canada took in over 10 per cent of the world’s refugees moving through formal resettlement programs. But since refugee policy can be pretty dense and it would not be clear to everyone what Alexander meant by “resettled refugees,” some context is in order.
As Sean Rehaag of York University’s Osgoode law school pointed out, “Canada looks good if you focus on one in ten refugees ‘resettled,’ until you realize that the resettlement programs are a drop in the bucket.” James Milner, a political science professor at Carleton University, likewise stressed context. He said that of the refugees eligible for resettlement, “at 2013 levels, it would take 100 years for the needs of these refugees to be met through resettlement alone.”
The numbers: All refugees
There were 19.5 million recognized refugees in 2014 – all, by definition, in some permanent or temporary situation outside their own country. According to Canadian government data, the total number of refugees who received permanent residence in Canada in 2014 was 23,286. That figure includes asylum seekers.
Of all recognized refugees out there in 2014, Canada permanently took in one in 837.
Who hosts the most? The top ten hosting countries, in order, are Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Chad, Uganda, and China. While these numbers are significant, however, the refugees in these heavy-lifting countries are typically only there on a temporary basis (Turkey calls Syrians in its borders “guests”).
The numbers: Asylum seekers
Asylum seekers are the people who make a claim at or within a country – at Canada’s airports or land borders, or from inside. The UNHCR counted 2 million new asylum seekers in 2014 and of those, according to its figures, Canada received 13,594 new applications. That’s one in 147.
Successful asylum seekers don’t get counted in UNHCR resettlement figures. If they did, the denominator would significantly change in Alexander’s one-in-ten claim. Consider Germany, which had over 200,000 new applications in 2014, and the same year recognized 33,000 claims. By this route, Rehaag argued the Germans “are in fact providing refugee resettlement.” Same goes for Sweden. The UNHCR records Sweden pledged to resettle 2,700 Syrian refugees, but given other avenues of refugee intake, the country actually granted protection to around 17,000 Syrians in 2014.
One in ten refugees who go through formal resettlement programs arrived in Canada in 2014, roughly in line with the proportions since 2009.
The claim is true because of the “resettled” qualifier. Without it (as used elsewhere), the one-in-ten figure would be misleading. Alexander’s claim is true only with respect to resettled refugees, but people who are resettled account for less than one per cent of all refugees (0.54 per cent, to be exact).