Open-or-closed Doored? A brief glimpse into Canada’s Immigration Systems for Syrian Refugees.


By: Kendall O’Connor

For going on seven years now, the Syrian people have been caught between a harsh civil war waging between Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian President, the Rebels, those who oppose Assad, and the Islamic State (“IS”).[1] While it may seem like the war in Syria consists mainly of infighting, it has been argued that the situation has worsened due to the involvement of other countries.[2] Labeled as “the worst man-made disaster since World War II” by the United Nations Human Rights Chief Zied Ra’ad al-Hussein,[3] the war in Syria has produced significant economic and societal impacts on the country, its people, and the world. This concise blog post will briefly address some of the more substantial impacts of the war in Syria, how Syrian refugees are finding sanctuary in other countries, especially focusing on the law of Canada’s claim for asylum and resettlement.


It is not a far-stretch to state that the war in Syria has manufactured cataclysmic consequences. For example, the World Bank reports “the conflict of Syria has damaged or destroyed about a third of the housing stock and about half of medical and education facilities, and led to significant economic losses.”[4] The more severe toll of the Syrian war, however, has taken place on the country’s people.[5] The BBC reported over “almost five million Syrians have had to leave the country,”[6] while the World Bank estimates there have been “more than 400,000 estimated deaths and over half the population [has been] driven from their homes.”[7] These estimates typically do not include people missing or not recorded however, so it is probable the approximations are even greater than reported.[8]


Many Syrians who have been forced to leave their homes “have gone to neighboring countries, like Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey or Iraq.”[9] In fact, it is projected that both Turkey and Lebanon have accepted more than one million Syrian refugees into each respective country.[10] This does not necessarily mean western countries have failed to provide accommodations, though the number of resettled refugees is drastically lower. Under the Trump administration in 2016, the United States resettled nearly 16,000 Syrian refugees, but only 3,024 in 2017.[11] As of January 29, 2017, it is estimated approximately 36,000 to 40,000 Syrian refugees have settled in Canada.[12]


Canada publicly asserts it has a commitment to resettling Syrian refugees within its borders, [13]  and some “romanticize the country . . . as a kind of liberal kingdom . . . .”[14] But Canada’s slighter higher resettlement numbers compared to the United States “says more about the failure of the United States than the initiative of Canada.”[15] As a matter of fact, it has been argued that “Canada maintains [an] open-door reputation [while] it has generally been very selective about whom it allows to approach the door in the first place.”[16]


In short, Syrian refugees attempting to immigrate to Canada may use two different systems: asylum or resettlement. An asylum claim is controlled by the “Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (the “Act”).”[17] The Act requires a refugee to make an “asylum claim” to determine eligibility when they arrive at a port of entry, and consists of factors such as “whether the claimant has committed a serious crime, made a previous claim in Canada, or received protection in another country.”[18] In addition, a Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Canada must prove before the IRB, a quasi-judicial tribunal, that they “would be subjected personally to a danger of torture, a risk to their life, or a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment if they were returned to their home country.”[19]


Resettled Syrian refugees, on the other hand, “are screened abroad and undergo security and medical checks prior to being issued a visa to come to Canada.”[20] Resettled Syrian refugees receive permanent residency on arrival,[21] and may be assisted or sponsored on arrival either by the Government itself or private groups.[22] Resettled Syrian refugees assisted by the government are called “Government Assisted Refugees (“GAR”)”, while resettled Syrian refugees sponsored privately are called “Privately Sponsored Refugees (“PSR”).”[23] “The main difference is personal engagement and support by privately organized groups who are better able to navigate systems more quickly and with more individual personal support particularly when newcomers first arrive.”[24]


Despite its “open-door reputation,” Canada’s immigration laws, including those briefed above, have been criticized as “some of the world’s most restrictive.”[25] In fact, the “fair hearing”[26] before the IRB that Canada provides to all eligible refugee claimants is a process that can take years.[27] The Quebec government has even asked the Canadian federal government to start sending refugees elsewhere because they could not support any more claimants.[28]


Consequently, while Canada is often viewed as the top example of a liberal, loving, and accepting western country, the statistics offer an alternative conclusion.

[1] What’s happening in Syria?, BBC (Apr. 16, 2018),

[2] Id.

[3] Dylan Collins, Syria war: ‘Worst man-made disaster since World War II’, Aljazeera (Mar. 15, 2017),

[4] William Stebbins & Zeina El Khalil, The Visible Impacts of the Syrian War May Only be the Tip of the Iceberg, The World Bank (July 10, 2017),

[5] Id.

[6] What’s happening in Syria?, supra note 1.

[7] Stebbins & El Khalil, supra note 4.

[8] What’s happening in Syria?, supra note 1.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Deborah Amos, The U.S. Has Accepted Only 11 Syrian Refugees This Year, NPR (Apr. 12, 2018),

[12] Refugees in Canada – Statistics & Facts, Statista, (last visited Jan. 20, 2019); #WelcomeRefugees: Key figures, Government of Canada, (last visited Jan. 20, 2019).

[13] #WelcomeRefugees: Key figures, supra note 12.

[14] Tony Keller, Canada Has Its Own Ways of Keeping Out Unwanted Immigrants, Atlantic (Jul. 12, 2018),

[15] Aaron Hutchins, Canada could lead world in resettling refugees in 2020, passing U.S., Maclean’s (Jul. 12, 2018),

[16] Keller, supra note 14.

[17] Claiming asylum in Canada – what happens?, Government of Canada, (last visited Jan. 20, 2019).

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Lynne Raskin, Private vs. Government-Assisted Refugees, Danforth Jewish Circle (Feb. 13, 2016),

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Keller, supra note 14.

[26] Claiming asylum in Canada – what happens?, supra note 17.

[27] Keller, supra note 14.

[28] Id.