UNHCR in Canada
UNHCR was established in 1950 by the UN General Assembly. It has a two part mandate—to provide protection for refugees and seek solutions to their problems. The 1951 Refugee Convention sets out a supervisory role for UNHCR regarding how each State applies the Convention. In 1976, UNHCR Representation opened its doors in Canada to fulfil these roles. Since then, offices in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto have strived to fulfill four main objectives in Canada:
Observe Canadian asylum practices and policies in order to promote the highest standards of protection for refugees and asylum-seekers.
Work with the Canadian government and private sponsorship groups to help coordinate resettlement opportunities in Canada.
Inform and educate Canadians about the situation of refugees and other displaced persons around the world.
Encourage the Canadian public and the Government of Canada to provide financial assistance to UNHCR programs worldwide.
Canada is party to both the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol—the cornerstones of international refugee law. In Canada, applications for refugee status are determined by the Immigration and Refugee Board, an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal. UNHCR staff in Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto work in cooperation with the federal government to:
- observe hearings of asylum-seekers before the Immigration and Refugee Board for refugee status determination;
- review procedures conducted by the Canada Border Services Agency at airports and land ports of entry and by Citizenship and Immigration Canada at inland offices regarding access to territory and eligibility for asylum;
- provide assistance to individual asylum applicants in Canada;
- issue opinions on the interpretation and application of international refugee law in Canada;
- organize and participate in training workshops on refugee law;
- assist lawyers and non-governmental groups working with asylum-seekers and refugees in Canada.
UNHCR strongly advocates for safe and lasting solutions for refugees. Most refugees long to return home as soon as it is safe to do so. Unfortunately, returning home is not always possible. Resettlement is one of three long term solutions—in addition to voluntary repatriation and local integration—to help refugees rebuild their lives. Resettlement is offered to vulnerable refugees who cannot return home or remain in their country of asylum. When refugees can’t go back home, UNHCR works to find opportunities for them to rebuild their lives in another country. Canada is one of UNHCR’s leading resettlement partners, welcoming thousands of refugees each year.
UNHCR has a responsibility to identify and refer refugees who have no other solution available for resettlement consideration to countries including Canada. Our local staff works closely with key stakeholders to:
- facilitate communication and understanding concerning refugee needs and program criteria between UNHCR offices, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Canadian NGOs;
- monitor progress on resettlement submissions in order to identify and address problems and gaps;
- promote the resettlement needs of refugees with urgent protection or special needs;
- counsel individual refugees and sponsors on refugee family reunion issues;
- provide information and training sessions for government and NGOs on UNHCR resettlement policy and priorities.
The Canadian public plays an important role in helping refugees. By providing information and educational materials to stakeholders and donors, UNHCR can keep Canadians informed and build support for refugees locally and abroad. Our aim is to:
- be a key source for refugee facts, figures, news and UNHCR policy positions;
- produce and distribute a range of public information and educational material concerning displaced people in print, audio-visual and electronic form;
- take part in conferences and workshops on a range of refugee themes and protection issues;
- support special events and campaigns to boost public support for refugees.
UNHCR is almost entirely funded by voluntary contributions, principally from governments, but also from intergovernmental organizations, corporations, foundations and individual donors. We receive a limited subsidy of just over 3% of our funding from the United Nations for administrative costs. In 2017 the Government of Canada was the 8th largest donor to UNHCR globally.
Unfortunately, the needs of refugees worldwide continue to surpass available funding. UNHCR is now relying on private-sector funding, more than ever, to alleviate suffering for those who have had to run for their lives.
Under the Canadian Income Tax Act, UNHCR is listed as a qualified donee and can issue official tax receipts for donations received from individuals and corporations.
Violent attacks have created new waves of displacement—creating a need for even more resources. Rapid response efforts are underway, including the distribution of basic relief items necessary for survival.