A Safe Haven? How Canada’s Promise to Protect the Persecuted is Falling Short of Expectation

Canada’s refugee policy is widely portrayed as being relatively liberal and welcoming in comparison to its southern neighbour. While many refugees have indeed found new lives, homes and comfort in Canada, there is another side to this story. For many of the arriving families, especially for women, their new lives in Canada often fail to reach the expectations promised.

With President Trump’s continued rhetoric of discrediting international crises and the plight of refugees and their desperation to relocate, Canada’s Trudeau opposed such a discourse by offering a nation-wide, open-arms approach to tackling the international shift in the refugee phenomenon, by welcoming vulnerable refugees to Canada’s borders. However, this inclusive and non-discriminatory approach to immigration fails to inform its audiences of the number of legal obstacles which many encounter both prior to, and upon arrival, in Canada. Amongst the most vulnerable to face these legal hurdles, are refugee women claiming asylum in Canada.

Some of these legal barriers hindering refugee women in Canada include: correctly identifying the causes of gender-based violence, domestic violence, human trafficking or sexual exploitation within the applicant’s home country, alongside nationality-based discrimination which predetermines one’s claim to asylum.

Canada clearly states that the country will not identify those entering for economic purposes as refugees. Though many countries embrace a similar approach regarding this topic, what this ideology fails to appreciate is that many of the problems which refugee women encounter begin with economic inequality. Canada formally identifies ‘refugees’ in accordance with the definition laid down in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. But with clear socio-economic discrepancies in many countries, women and girls living in poverty are often at the centerfold of gender-based violence, domestic violence, and become victim to sexual exploitation and trafficking. Furthermore, without a clear case of national crisis (as identified in other countries such as Syria and Afghanistan), Canada’s interpretation of refugees, varies greatly from applicant to applicant, and thus breaks the promise that all those living in fear are safe in Canada, which can be seen in many cases of applicants arriving from Central America.

Furthermore, the growing numbers of asylum cases has proven overwhelming for Canadian officials, forcing many entering the country to wait in limbo for years before their claims are given an adequate review and hearing. Some researchers and advocates have found common denominators in the long waiting times that many applicants are given when submitting their claim for asylum. They argue that there is a strong correlation between the cases which have an extended waiting time before a hearing, which could take years at a time, and the high rejection rate given to those who have been in the country for this long duration. Meaning, once an applicant submits a claim and waits for many years before given an official hearing, they use that waiting time to integrate into the culture and language and then immigration officials will find little grounds to grant them asylum – as the applicant appears to no longer be in danger.

These complications prove disproportionately harmful to women who submit claims and then are placed in legal limbo, which affects their family planning efforts or their overall attempts to claim asylum. This is especially harmful if a woman’s asylum case is tied to her husband/partner, because if she decides to leave him whilst her case is pending, for example due to abusive behaviour, it is capable of jeopardising the woman’s legal status and claim to asylum, resulting in a fear of leaving an abusive relationship or seeking outside assistance.

The first step toward ensuring that refugee women are well-protected and welcome in Canada begins by re-evaluating the country cases which push women to seek refuge elsewhere, along with developing tailored-made programmes and methods to address a number of intersectional issues which refugee women encounter when claiming asylum in Canada. With the United States’ future role in the crisis remaining unknown, it presents an opportunity for Canada to set a new North American and global standard for the treatment and acceptance of refugees, by reassessing their claims process, rethinking their approach to those entering, and building a system that truly cultivates a safe haven for those in dire need of human rights protections and a place to call home.


‘The Women and Girl Migrants Who Disappear, and the Feminist Policies That Could Save Them’ (6 March 2018). Available at: https://www.opencanada.org/features/women-and-girl-migrants-who-disappear-and-feminist-policies-could-save-them/
Beuze, Jean-Nicolas., As a Refugee Crisis Unfolds, Central America Needs Canada’s Help, Opinion: The Worsening Circumstances for Desperate People in Countries like Honduras demand Canada’s Attention (23 December 2017). Available at: http://www.macleans.ca/opinion/as-a-refugee-crisis-unfolds-central-america-needs-canadas-help/
‘Canada may not be as welcoming as Aslyum-Seekers hope’ (27 April 2017). Available at: https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2017-04-27/asylum-seekers-fleeing-us-may-find-cold-comfort-in-canadas-courts
‘Refugee Law and Policy: Canada’ (General Background) Available at: https://www.loc.gov/law/help/refugee-law/canada.php
‘Violence Against Women Terms’, (Neighbours, Friends & Family: Immigrant & Refugee Communities) Available at: http://www.immigrantandrefugeenff.ca/violence-against-women
Markusoff, Jason. Canada’s Failing Refugee System is Leaving Thousands in Limbo (10 January 2018). Available at: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/canadas-refugee-system-is-in-chaos/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *