Refugee Resettlement in COVID-19 Context
Branch /Agency: IRCC
- This is an unprecedented situation and we must take extraordinary measures to protect the health and safety of Canadians.
- In this context, an interim order has been made under the Aeronautics Act that restricts travel from overseas by foreign nationals, with certain exceptions.
- In addition, Canada’s main partners in administering refugee resettlement operations, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration, have also temporarily suspended resettlement travel for refugees.
- Given this situation and recognizing the very limited ability of sponsors and resettlement organizations to receive refugees, resettlement travel to Canada has been temporarily suspended.
- Should a very urgent case of overseas refugee protection be needed it will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
- Canada intends to uphold its international commitments and overseas refugee resettlement will resume once conditions allow which includes ensuring that there are appropriate measures in place to support the refugees upon arrival.
- In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has taken several extraordinary measures to restrict non-essential travel.
- The government is also recommending that all those entering Canada self-isolate for 14 days in order to limit the spread of the virus.
- On March 18, the Prime Minister announced that the Government will prohibit the entry of foreign nationals from overseas, with exemptions for Canadian citizens, permanent residents, protected persons and registered Indians. Additional exemptions were announced on March 21 for those who have already committed to working, studying or making Canada their home, including permanent resident applicants who have been approved for permanent residence before the travel restrictions were in force on March 18 but who have not yet travelled.
- While this exemption would technically permit some resettled refugees to come to Canada, our overseas partners, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) who normally facilitate travel for refugees, have announced a temporary suspension of resettlement departures.
- There are approximately 2,700 resettled refugees with valid Permanent Resident Visas that would qualify for the March 21 exemption. Officials are currently working with international and domestic partners to assess:
- the feasibility of arranging travel to Canada; and
- the reception readiness and capacity of IRCC service providers and private sponsors to implement 14-day self-isolation measures for new arrivals.
- Given limited flight availability and the drastically reduced reception capacity in Canada, resettled refugee arrivals over the next few weeks will be very limited and would only take place where there is confirmed capacity and appropriate measures in place, in collaboration with all partners involved in the resettlement continuum.
- While recognizing the challenges and risks of international travel, UNHCR has asked States to continue to work in close collaboration with them to ensure that the most critical emergency cases can still travel to their final destination. Any limited capacity that is available in Canada will therefore prioritize urgent protection cases that may arise. Consideration will also be given to the impact on medical services in the receiving community, as resettled refugees often have health and mental health issues that require immediate attention.
Prepared by: Catherine Scott, Director General, Refugee Affairs and Jean-Marc Gionet, Senior Director, International Network
Approved by: Natasha Kim, Associate ADM, Strategic and Program Policy, 613-437-9683
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