OTTAWA — As the number of displaced people worldwide reaches modern highs, new figures show Canada resettled more refugees last year than any other country and had the second-highest number of refugees who gained citizenship.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ latest report shows the number of people fleeing war, persecution and conflict has exceeded 70 million — the most since the Second World War.
About 1.4 million refugees were in need of resettlement in 2018 but only 92,400 refugees were actually resettled, in 25 countries.
Canada accepted 28,100 refugees for permanent resettlement last year. The United States was second with 22,900.
The data also shows Canada gave citizenship to the second-largest number of people who had arrived as refugees — a figure that helps to measure how well countries are integrating refugees. A total of 18,000 refugees became Canadian citizens last year, a substantial increase over 2017, when just over 10,000 refugees were naturalized. The number had been declining over time.
Michael Casasola, a senior resettlement officer with the UN refugee agency’s operation in Canada, says Canada has been a leader in welcoming refugees and giving them opportunities to thrive.
He pointed to Canada’s private sponsorship program, which accounts for two-thirds of Canada’s resettled refugees. By offering community-based supports that come directly from citizens and charitable organizations, refugees who arrive through this program achieve better outcomes and become better integrated into their communities than government-sponsored refugees.
“Canada’s approach to integration works. It encourages integration, it welcomes refugees to become part of Canadian society, including obtaining citizenship, and among all the immigrants who come to Canada, refugees have the highest (citizenship) uptake,” Casasola said.
The picture hasn’t been all rosy. An influx of “irregular” asylum seekers crossing into Canada using a forest path between New York state and Quebec has become a divisive political issue, with conservative politicians often referring to these individuals as “queue-jumpers” and “illegal” migrants.
The UNHCR report shows Canada was the ninth-largest recipient of new asylum-seekers in 2018, with 55,400 claims filed. Over 19,000 of those were from people intercepted by the RCMP for crossing “irregularly” into Canada.
While these numbers represent an overall increase in the number of asylum seekers to Canada — a situation that has led to major backlogs in processing claims and problems finding housing for asylum-seekers in Montreal and Toronto — the UNHCR figures show Canada’s experiences are nothing compared to the waves of refugees flocking to other countries. There they await processing and possible resettlement elsewhere.
“Only 16 per cent of the world’s refugees are in developed states,” Casasola said.
“The reality is the vast majority of refugees are in front-line countries. So we always have to be careful in certain discourse globally in terms of trying to present that somehow we’re inundated when other countries bear much larger responsibilities that they take on when refugees cross their border.”
Turkey hosted the largest number of refugees worldwide, with 3.7 million people in 2018.