14 Facts about Refugees
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Refugee protection is enjoying a renaissance in Canada, with the generous response of people across the country to the dire situation of Syrian refugees. But more needs to be done. Sadly, in our daily lives, we may see and hear negative myths about refugees. Consider using the following 14 facts about refugees to challenge and rebut these negative stereotypes.
1. Refugees live in many different circumstances, not just in camps.
Refugees are people who have been forced from their homes by human rights abuses. All refugees have a right to protection, wherever they are: in a city, in a camp, on a boat or at a remote border crossing.
2. Most countries in the world have signed on to protect refugees.
There are 145 States party to the international law that protects refugees. That law says nothing about where, or from what country, a refugee must request protection. Refugees do whatever they can to reach a country they hope will be safe – and that country has an obligation to protect any refugees on their territory. Canada is one of the States party to this international law.
3. There is no queue for refugee claimants.
International law guarantees to people fleeing persecution the right to go to another country and immediately seek asylum. Different rules apply to refugees as compared to immigrants because refugees’ lives are at stake. These different rules were adopted following the Second World War when many countries, including Canada, closed the door on Jewish refugees.
4. Harsh policies won’t stop refugees from using smugglers.
Refugees are fleeing desperate situations and will do whatever they must to save their lives. Often they have no choice but to turn to smugglers to help them escape. Refugees rarely know anything about the policies in the country they arrive in – sometimes they don’t even know where they are going.
5. International law recognizes that refugees often lack the required documents to enter a foreign country.
The international law recognizes that sometimes the only way for a refugee to escape is to break national laws – by using a fake passport or by using a smuggler. The law that protects refugees says that countries should not punish refugees who arrive unlawfully, as long as they present themselves promptly to authorities and give good reasons for their illegal entry.
6. Refugees and others seeking protection pose very little risk to Canada’s security.
Refugees are not threats to security – they are seeking security and protection from threats to their own lives. It is far more difficult to enter Canada as a refugee than as a visitor. Refugee claimants and resettled refugees all go through a security screening. It is not likely that a person intending to commit a violent act would submit to such detailed examinations.
7. Refugees make important economic contributions to Canada.
Newcomers face numerous and intractable barriers to finding employment, such as discrimination, lack of networks, language and skills differences, and lack of documentation to prove their education and training. Partly due to these barriers, the unemployment rate for newcomers is higher initially than that for persons born in Canada. Newcomers often take employment that is considered undesirable by Canadians. Ultimately, the majority of newcomers succeed in finding gainful employment.
8. Refugees receive limited, if any, social assistance from government authorities.
Refugees come to Canada in different ways, but no matter the category, refugees receive very limited income assistance from the government.
• Refugee claimants and refugees who are granted Canada’s protection receive no special income assistance. Depending on the regulations in their province, they may be entitled to social assistance like other residents.
• Government assisted refugees may access financial assistance from the federal government through the Resettlement
Assistance Program. This assistance is based on need and usually limited to a maximum of one year. It is tied to provincial social assistance rates. This particular group is also entitled to a one-time settlement allowance to cover basic household effects.
• Privately sponsored refugees are not entitled to any federal or provincial government assistance. Their sponsors must support them fully throughout the period of their sponsorship, which is usually one year.
9. The cost of healthcare for refugees and refugee claimants amounts to a fraction of that for other Canadians.
The cost of healthcare per refugee is just 10% of the cost per person for other Canadians, according to figures from the Canadian Institute for Health Information and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2008). This is known as the ‘healthy immigrant’ effect.
10. People of faith who are refugees seek safety and peace.
Too often, people may feel an irrational fear of others from a different faith group. By definition, violent fundamentalists of any religion are not refugees. Refugees are in danger, not dangerous.
11. The families of refugees and other newcomers to Canada make important contributions.
Families make significant positive contributions to Canadian society, both economically and socially. The Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada (2003) found that immigrants tend to establish themselves more easily if they are supported by families.
12. Canada can still improve its respect for refugee rights.
Canada allows some people to be returned to a country where they are at risk of torture. This contravenes the total prohibition in the Convention against Torture, to which we are Party. Canada is slow to reunite refugee families, even though we are Party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires Canada to deal expeditiously with requests for family reunification.
13. Canada has fewer refugees per capita than many other countries.
Canada has just about 4 refugees per 1,000 population, compared to more than 20 refugees per 1,000 in Jordan, Chad, Lebanon, Nauru, Turkey and South Sudan. Lebanon has 208 per 1,000! Other countries ahead of Canada include Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Malta and Austria.
14. Canada’s diversity is our great strength.
Refugees are an integral part of the Canadian mosaic. Fears about newcomer integration are not new. Generation after generation, people have worried about whether the most recent immigrants will integrate as well as previous immigrants. A hundred years ago, Canada was actually quite diverse, with First Nations peoples, a significant Chinese population especially in the West and African Canadians who had been living in Canada for generations, in addition to people of different European heritages. Diversity is not something to be feared: diversity is Canada’s strength.
This Fact Sheet is part of the Refugees Welcome Here! Campaign, a collaboration between the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnistie internationale Canada and Amnesty International Canada. The campaign partners extend a special word of thanks to Garnotte for the use of his cartoons.
View and download more campaign resources here.
Take the Refugees Welcome Here Pledge! and use these facts to challenge and rebut negative stereotypes about refugees.