Frequently Asked Questions

We want to make finding answers to your questions easy, with help from our friends at the BC Refugee Hub, we’ve been able to create a list of frequently asked questions too.

Article 31 of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention says states cannot impose penalties on refugees who enter or are present in those states “without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.” The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) states that anyone who comes into Canada and claims refugee protection can’t be charged with any offences under immigration law or certain Criminal Code sections “pending disposition of their claim for refugee protection or if refugee protection is conferred.” Canada cannot close the border to people seeking refuge.

Refugees have the Right to Make a Claim – The right to make a refugee claim is protected in Canadian law which builds on Canada’s international obligations. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights of refugee claimants to fundamental justice, and the right to an oral hearing of their claim. This is known as the ‘Singh Decision‘ (April 4, 1985).

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Canada has separate programs for refugees and immigration. Refugees and their families often wait longer for immigration processing than other immigrant categories.

People fleeing persecution have the legal right to make a refugee claim when they arrive at the border. This is the only process for people fleeing persecution and there is no queue. Having made a claim, refugee claimants may have to wait up to two years to have their hearing. People fleeing persecution cannot be asked to wait and make an immigration application. International law recognizes the right of people who are fleeing violence and persecution to seek asylum in another country. It simply does not make sense to ask people who are running for their lives to wait in line. The Supreme Court of Canada has also confirmed that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights of asylum seekers.

IRCC has released the following info-graphic to show that Refugee Claimants are not “skipping the line” or taking any other immigrant’s place in the application process:

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Refugees work hard to find employment and to integrate into a new country despite the disadvantages they face: learning a new language and culture, dealing with loss and trauma, difficulties finding a job, family separation etc. As well, the low level of recognition of refugee’s qualifications (15%) means that well-qualified refugees are often working at low paid jobs and thus paying lower taxes. On the other hand, many refugees are entrepreneurial and start small businesses, thus creating jobs. A 2016 Canadian study shows that after 4-8 years of residence newcomer rates of business ownership surpass the Canadian born rates.

Numerous studies have tried to determine their net economic benefit, in other words, whether refugees (and immigrants) cost more than the financial benefit they bring to a country. A now discredited report from the Fraser Institute (which got a great deal of press) claimed that in 2005-06 each newcomer was costing taxpayers over $6000 annually. This study was flawed by estimates rather than real figures and serious inconsistencies in analysis. A 2013 study found that during the first ten years of residence, refugees and immigrants cost Canada about $500 per newcomer annually, based on taxes paid compared to services received. New studies are backing up the widespread conviction that immigration helps host countries economically. For instance, a US study found that over 20 years the average newcomer pays back all the assistance received and makes net contributions.[iii] Another study states that although first generation immigrants incur small costs to the host country, their children are among the largest net contributors to the country’s wealth.[iv] This is in part due to the high educational achievements of the children of immigrants and refugees who outperform third generation (or more) Canadians, according to a Stats Can research.

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Less than 5% of total social assistance expenditures are paid to refugee claimants. Although refugee claimant families are far more likely than the broader Canadian population to receive social assistance income, it is important to keep in mind that refugee claimants only represent about one-third of 15% of the total Canadian population. Overall, refugee claimant families receive less than 5% of total social assistance payments made in Canada (Table 1).

Lu Y., M. Frenette, and G. Schellenberg. 2015. Social Assistance Receipt Among Refugee Claimants in Canada: Evidence from Linked Administrative Data Files. Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series, no. 369. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11F0019M. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

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To obtain a work permit, asylum seekers must first meet with Immigration Canada to determine if they are eligible for a refugee claim. That usually happens within the first few days of arrival, but PRAIDA says the “unprecedented” influx has created delays of more than three months. Next, claimants apply for a federal work permit, but the time it takes to process work permits is stretching to about four months and could get longer. Those delays mean claimants could face months on social assistance without the ability to get a job.

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Refugee claimants receive minimal government supports upon entering Canada. They follow complicated resettlement pathways and often have to find their own way through complex government systems to obtain basic resources, permission to work, and protection in Canada. They are a vulnerable group within our society that benefits greatly from support and accompaniment. It is projected that more than 2000 refugee claimants will arrive in Metro Vancouver in 2017. Many of the newest refugee claimant arrivals are currently homeless and living in temporary locations (shelters or hotels). Refugee Claimants are able to access basic provincial shelter and income support. Groups that provide refugee families a welcome through active support and ongoing friendship promote their healthy settlement and integration in Canada.

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Misinformation on this subject has been circulating for some time and has created a false perception that refugees are living the ‘high life’ in Canada. In actual fact, refugees and asylum seekers do not receive more than Canadians and permanent residents.[i] Asylum seekers ask for asylum at a port of entry or inland. As soon as they are accepted into the refugee process they can apply for a work permit. If they have no means of support, they can apply to the province for welfare while waiting for the work permit. A single refugee claimant able to work would receive a monthly amount of: $628 in Quebec, $710 in BC and $750 in Manitoba, which is the same as citizens of those provinces receive. [ii] Extra amounts can be given to people who are temporarily unable to work (a small minority). As of January 2018, in Quebec only 3.6% of people receiving ‘last resort special assistance’ were refugee claimants.[iii] Quebec government statistics show that after 11 months the number of refugee claimants receiving social assistance decreases greatly. And a study of welfare benefits paid in Canada from 1999-2011 showed that only 2% were paid to refugee claimants depending on the year.[iv]

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Refugees are an incredible source of human capital. After their initial settlement period, refugees become employed and pay taxes. They thereby contribute to the Canadian economy by adding to its workforce and tax base. Moreover, refugees are often highly educated people, and Canada benefits from their knowledge, talents, and skills. Finally, a fair portion of refugees tend to be children who will spend a lifetime contributing their skills to the economy and adding to the tax base. Refugees contribute positively to the Canadian economy. Many of them possess an entrepreneurial spirit, the kind of spirit that would be required to fling yourself and your family halfway across the world in search of safety; they start businesses that provide jobs for themselves and for other Canadians.

The ISSofBC Report released in June 2018 “Refugee Claimants in BC – Understanding Current Irregular Arrival Trends” shows that claimants participating in the report survey were overwhelmingly young, male, well-educated, and able to speak English. 72% had pursued education beyond high school, and 61% had university or graduate degrees. 96% self-reported English language proficiency. Of those over three-quarters self-identified as having intermediate (36%) or advanced (40%) English.

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Refugee Claimants aren’t allowed to pursue a refugee claim in Canada until a screening is completed. The claim process is a long and difficult process for claimants to prove their case to stay in Canada permanently. Once a claimant makes a claim for refugee protection, they will be required to attend an eligibility interview with an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada or Canada Border Services Agency officer. Based on the claimant’s responses, the officer will decide if the claim is eligible for referral to the Immigration and Refugee Board. At this point the claimant will start their claim process.

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Global News analyzed 55 major attacks in Western countries from 2010-2017 — where at least one person was killed — using data from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) and media reports for incidents in 2016-2017. Of the 55 attacks, including four in Canada, 42 suspects were born in the country where the attack occurred, 29 attacks involved a majority of suspects who were foreign born. Some incidents involved multiple attackers who were both foreign-born and domestic.

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“Being a refugee is not a choice. No one chooses to be a refugee. It is imposed by different tyranny governments and people are escaping their own governments. I was a refugee before I become a hardworking citizen. I was a refugee before I was able to call Canada home and become a proud Canadian,” former refugee from Ethiopia, living in Canada for 33 years.

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Refugees and others seeking protection in Canada are not threats to security – they are seeking security and protection from threats to their own lives. Refugee claimants all go through a front-end security screening. Through this process, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) checks all refugee claimants on arrival in Canada. Since the screening was put in place in 2001, the number of claimants found to represent any kind of security concern has been statistically insignificant. It is far more difficult to enter Canada as a refugee than as a visitor, because the refugee determination process involves security checks by CSIS and the RCMP, fingerprinting and interviews. It is not likely that a person intending to commit a violent act would expose themselves to such detailed examinations. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act excludes refugee claimants if they are found to be inadmissible on the basis of security, serious criminality, organized criminality or human rights violations.

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The Government of Canada’s response:

Canada remains a fair and welcoming country but will not tolerate abuse of that generosity. The Government of Canada is taking additional steps to ensure the integrity of our immigration system. Irregular border crossers will have their claims heard quickly, and, if they are found not to be in need of Canada’s protection, will be removed quickly.

Other actions, such as creating the Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Irregular Migration with our domestic partners, allow us to address the pressures these partners are experiencing. We have also expedited the processing of work permits to limit the impact on social services, housing and income support. This expedited processing ensures that asylum seekers who are waiting for a decision on a claim can support themselves independently while they are in Canada.

In addition to these actions, we created the Government of Canada’s Asylum Seeker Influx – National Strategic Response Plan (AS NSRP), which addresses any influx of irregular arrivals via the Canada-U.S. land border. Developed in co-operation with federal and provincial partners and the Canadian Red Cross, the AS NSRP is based on lessons learned from the 2017 influx of irregular border crossings.

The AS NSRP provides strategic direction to support involved departments and sustain a coordinated national response to an increased influx of asylum seekers. It is flexible to accommodate regional differences and designed to address mass arrivals and influx scenarios at single or multiple entry points or other locations. It outlines key considerations and tasks for the development of departmental specific plans and identifies actions and areas of coordination for primary and supporting departments and agencies.

The AS NSRP is intended to complement not replace existing federal plans, authorities and mandates as well as to support a comprehensive, coordinated federal approach to the emergency response to the influx of asylum seekers in Canada.

The national response is based on 3 key activities to move irregular border crossers through the system in a timely manner.

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Refugees seek safety and protection from persecution. They do not pose a risk to Canada. Once someone claims asylum in Canada or before they are sponsored for resettlement in Canada, they undergo rigorous security screening by RCMP, Canadian Border Services and Canadian Security Intelligence Service. They will be excluded from the refugee process or for resettlement if they present a national security threat or because of serious criminality, organized crime, or human rights violations. Since these measures were introduced very few asylum seekers have been found to be a security threat. Even in urgent refugee situations, like that of Syrians fleeing civil war, only 0.3% were refused because they posed a threat to Canada or had committed a serious crime.[i] Refugees are not statistically more dangerous than native-born Canadians. In fact, a recent study found that new comers are under-represented in prison populations, and that over the long-term, property crime tends to diminish in their vicinity.[ii] Refugees and immigrants commit fewer crimes than Canadian-born citizens, although when they do, their crimes seem to receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage.

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Refugee claimants who cross the border irregularly expect to be intercepted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) once they reach Canadian soil. Authorities ensure that all individuals crossing into Canada are checked by both the RCMP and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) regarding potential security and public health threats. According to the CBSA, less than 1% of refugee claimants crossing the border irregularly had a serious criminal background.

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Irregular Entry is not Illegal: Refugee Claimants have the legal right to cross the border and enter Canada to make a refugee claim. Asylum seekers are crossing irregularly – between ports of entry – but that is not illegal. They are doing so because the Safe Third Country Agreement (2004) between Canada and the United States requires Canada to send refugee claimants back to the U.S., with a few exceptions. The Safe Third Country Agreement applies only to refugee claims made at border crossings.

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It is far more complicated, time consuming, and difficult to enter Canada as a refugee than it is to enter as a visitor. Refugee claimants go through thorough screening by both Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), including fingerprinting and interviews. Any claimant found to pose a security risk, to have engaged in serious criminality, to have participated in organized crime, or to have committed human rights violations is not admissible as a refugee, and risk being detained. It is unlikely that a terrorist would risk undergoing such a process. A terrorist act has never been committed by a refugee in Canadian history. Despite this fact, Canadians have often viewed refugees with fear and suspicion. Canada has made the mistake of believing entire groups of people guilty by association in the past, for example, when it placed Japanese and German people in internment camps during World War Two. This is a very dark and shameful chapter in Canadian history, and we must be careful not to repeat it.

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The self-rated official language (English or French) proficiency of 66% of female immigrants was good six months after they arrived and remained so over the next two years (Table 1). As well, during those two years, the language proficiency of 14% of women improved from limited to good. However, for 15% of men and 27% of women, official language proficiency remained limited, and for 5% of each sex, it declined from good to limited.

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Close to one-third of refugees (31.5%) who have received their permanent resident status, upgraded their educational credentials by completing their highest postsecondary qualification in Canada. When looking only at those who arrived as adults (aged 18 and older), about 22% upgraded their education with higher qualifications in Canada, slightly more than immigrants admitted under either the economic or family categories, both at about 20%. The majority (71.1%) of refugees who immigrated to Canada as adults and upgraded their educational qualifications in Canada completed a trades or college diploma. In comparison, among economic immigrants who upgraded their education in Canada, the majority (56.5%) completed a bachelor’s degree or higher.

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The ISSofBC Report released in June 2018 “Refugee Claimants in BC – Understanding Current Irregular Arrival Trends” shows that claimants participating in the report survey were overwhelmingly young, male, well-educated, and able to speak English. 72% had pursued education beyond high school, and 61% had university or graduate degrees. 96% self-reported English language proficiency. Of those over three-quarters self-identified as having intermediate (36%) or advanced (40%) English.

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Not surprisingly the rate of unemployment among refugees is higher than Canadian born workers, especially in the first period after their arrival in Canada. This is partly because they fled their country at short notice and were thus unable to make plans for their future employment and to take diplomas and proof of work experience with them. On top of this their training and diplomas are only recognized in Canada 15% of the time, so for example, an engineer from Syria or Eritrea is not likely to take a job away from a Canadian engineer.[i] Due to these circumstances, many well-qualified refugees are employed in jobs with poor working conditions and low pay. These are jobs that many Canadians are refusing: service industry jobs, farm work, slaughterhouse work, taxi driving, etc.

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Canada received 50,000 claims in 2017, representing 0.13% of its population. Meanwhile, Germany received 170,000 claims in 2017, or 0.2% of its population. Refugee claimants are a very small fraction of Canada’s overall population.

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Only a small minority of refugees come to the world’s richest countries, including Canada. 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. Countries accepting more refugees than Canada include Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Malta and Austria
https://issbc.org/our-resource/refugee-myths-facts

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While numbers have increased in the last few years, they perhaps have not increased as much as the public may realize.

Total Asylum Claimants Processed by CBSA & IRCC Offices, January 2011 – August 2018:

2011: 25,315
2012: 20,475
2013: 10,380
2014: 13,460
2015: 16,125
2016: 23,930
2017: 50,450
2018: 35,365

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35,365 is only the fourth highest refugee claimant number since 2000. In 2000, there were 37,845 claimants, and in 2008, there were 36,920 across the country. The highest volume came in 2001, with a total of 44,695 asylum claimants in Canada.

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) intercepted about 20,000 refugee claimants who crossed the border irregularly last year, which is 41 per cent of all claims. The majority of refugee claimants enter Canada through regular entry points.

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People arriving from the U.S. cannot claim asylum at the Canadian official land border.

Under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, individuals seeking refugee protection must make a claim in the first country they arrive in. However, some refugee claimants seeking asylum at the official Canadian land border qualify for an exception to the agreement, such as having a close family member in Canada.

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Most of the irregular crossings took place in Quebec (91%) followed by Manitoba (5%) and British Colombia (4%).

Roxham Road, a dead-end street closest to the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle US-Canada land border, is the busiest irregular entry point in Canada due to the ease and safety of the crossing, as well as the publicity it received in the media.

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Refugee claimants who have crossed the border irregularly are arrested and undergo a security check and an examination to determine if they are eligible to make an asylum claim.

If they are eligible, their case will be referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board that will assess whether they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country. The merits of the claim are assessed on an individual basis. These claims are not given priority over an asylum seeker who enters the country through an official port of entry.

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This is false. They get the same health programs Canadians on social assistance get and they do not jump the queue. According to the Canadian Council for Refugees, the cost of health care for refugees and refugee claimants amounts to just 10 per cent of that of other Canadians. Furthermore, newcomers to Canada use fewer health services compared to Canadians, especially in their first few years after arrival. This phenomenon has become popularly known as the ‘healthy immigrant’ effect, and some researchers believe it applies to refugees as well.

University of Toronto epidemiologist Laura Rosella recently published a research paper on the healthy immigrant effect. She found that immigrants are 60 per cent less likely to die during a given time period than native-born Canadians and long-term residents in Ontario. However, she is unclear if the same can be said for refugees who arrive to Canada. “They come here under significant stress, so it’s unpredictable how that could affect their health,” she told Yahoo Canada News. But Rosella adds that Canada is very selective of who it allows in the country and it omits “people who have major health problems because they could be a burden on the health care system.”

Dr. Jack Tu, a cardiologist and senior scientist at Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto, looked at the cardiovascular health of people who had recently arrived to Canada. He found that “major cardiovascular events occurred 30 per cent less often in newcomers than in long-term residents.” Dr. Tu says one of the reasons for this is “Canada’s rigorous screening process, which includes extensive health requirements.”

The cost of healthcare for refugees and refugee claimants amounts to a fraction of that of other Canadians

The cost of healthcare for refugees and refugee claimants amounts to just 10% of that of other Canadians.
In addition, newcomers to Canada use fewer health services as compared to Canadians, especially in their first few years after arrival. This phenomenon has become popularly known as the ‘healthy immigrant’ effect.

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According to the World Health Organization, there is no systemic association between migration and the increase of communicable diseases. Refugees who have health problems usually do so as a result of the lack of medical care that existed in their home country, or due to problems they encountered on their journey to Canada. But most of these problems are addressed by health care services in first-asylum camps and in refugee processing centres before refugees enter Canada.

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While it is true that some refugees arrive with serious health and mental health problems as a result of the traumatic events that they have survived, those who work with refugees in settlement agencies and in community health centres emphasize that the great majority of those who arrive in Canada do not. Many are very stressed upon arrival, but their stress quite often relates to immediate questions, such as where they will find food and lodging, and then jobs, schools, and social connections – friends. When these needs are met in a timely manner, the risk of serious health and mental health complications is reduced considerably.

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Many refugees in Canada escaped their country of origin by boat, including most of the ‘boat people’ who were welcomed to Canada in the early 1980s as part of Operation Lifeline throughout Canada and of Project 4000 in Ottawa. People desperate to flee violence and persecution will escape by any means necessary, often by paying smugglers, and it would be immoral to punish them for doing so. Punishing people would be un- likely to serve as a deterrent because refugees often have no idea where they are going and would likely choose to come even if they knew that they would be incarcerated, because the alternative could mean death or torture. Punishing refugees for illegally entering or remaining on a territory is against international law.

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Repressive governments often refuse to issue passports and documents to those that they are persecuting, or imprison people when they try to leave. International law has long recognized that such people may have to use false papers to escape their county; many Jewish Germans were forced to do so when they escaped Germany in the mid-20th century.

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International law recognizes that refugees often don’t have the required documents to enter a foreign country.

The UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (article 31) and Canadian law (Immigration and Refugee Protection Act s. 133) prohibit governments from penalizing refugees who enter or remain illegally on their territory.

Many Jews fleeing Nazi persecution in the mid-twentieth century used false documents to reach safety and to find protection as refugees. The Swedish protective passports (schutz-passes) distributed by Raoul Wallenberg is one such example. In recognition for his efforts to help smuggle persecuted Jews to safety, Raoul Wallenberg became Canada’s first honourary citizen.

People fleeing persecution often have no choice but to turn to using false documents or smugglers to help them escape. Repressive governments often refuse to issue passports to known political dissidents – or to imprison them if they try to leave the country. Sometimes refugees are stripped of their identification as they flee from conflict or they have no time to collect their official documents before fleeing for safety.

How people arrive in Canada tells us nothing about why they left. To decide if they need our protection we need to know why they left and what dangers they would face if they returned. We have a refugee determination system to find this out.

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The people settling in Canada come from diverse backgrounds, including middle-class, wealthy, or educated families. However, they have been forced to leave their homes due to horrific conflict. Cell phones aid in keeping in touch with family, calling for help, and navigation as they leave their home country. Would you flee your home without your cell phone?

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The children of refugees and immigrants are LESS likely to be involved in criminal activities, to consume drugs and alcohol, and to be exposed to drugs and alcohol than Canadian born children whose parents were not immigrants or refugees (Ottawa Public Health, 2014).

In a 2016 report entitled, Educational and Labour market outcomes of Childhood Immigrants by Admission Class, Statistics Canada revealed that refugee children as a group had achieved better graduation outcomes than their Canadian-born peers. Thirty percent of refugees attended university compared to 24 percent of their Canadian born peers. The study also found that the earnings of people who arrived in Canada as refugee children were similar to those of their peers with Canadian born parents, and to those with parent who immigrated to Canada via the business and skilled worker streams.

Yes they are — just like your ancestors did. The French, Irish, Scottish, Germans, Dutch, and many more, all left their mark on Canada. Immigrants are hard-working, entrepreneurial, and innovative. Welcoming refugees is not only a humanitarian act, it is also a long-term investment in our community.

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