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Clients.jpgRefugees have often fled their homes because of unimaginable hardship and have, in many cases, been forced to live in refugee camps for many years. All refugees – resettled from overseas or granted protection in Canada – often don’t have the resources to easily establish themselves but are entitled to basic health services and settlement support.

Quick Facts

over 13,500 persons who made refugee claims within Canada under the Asylum Program. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC)
over 23,200 new refugees were resettled in Canada. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC)
over 11,400 refugees in Ontario. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC)

Concepts, Skills & Terminology

Discover important concepts, definitions and terms relating to serving refugee communities in the settlement sector.


Refugees are people who have fled their countries because of a well-founded fear of widespread persecution, and who are unable to return home. Many refugees come from war-torn countries and have seen unthinkable horrors.

  • A refugee is different from an immigrant, in that an immigrant is a person who chooses to settle permanently in another country, whereas refugees are forced to flee. United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
  • Under the official definition used in Canadian law, however, the term immigrant includes refugees. The Canadian government defines immigrants as “persons residing in Canada who were born outside of Canada, excluding temporary foreign workers, Canadian citizens born outside Canada and those with student or working visas. Statistics Canada, 2010


Canadian Refugee System and Programs

1. The Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program, for people seeking protection from outside Canada; and
2. The In-Canada Asylum Program for people making refugee protection claims from within Canada.
1. Welcoming at the point of entry
2. Temporary housing
3. Help to find permanent housing
4. Other settlement services, including financial assistance.
1. Groups of five or more individuals, and
2. Private sponsorship organizations representing religious, ethnic and community groups can sponsor refugees for resettlement to Canada.
These groups take on the responsibility of providing refugees with accommodation, resettlement assistance and emotional support for up to one year. In exceptional circumstances, this assistance can be extended for up to three years for refugees with special needs, such as victims of trauma and torture, or women and children at risk.
1. UNHCR identifies the refugees
2. The Government of Canada provides up to six months of income support through the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP)
3. Private sponsors provide another six months of financial support and up to a year of social and emotional support.
4. Refugees are also covered under the Interim Federal Health Program for the duration of the sponsorship (one year), in addition to provincial health coverage.

Refugee-Specific Needs

  • Economic and social integration indicators suggest that refugees face more difficulty integrating than other immigrants. Key challenges include the following from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC):
1. Difficulty accessing adequate housing
2. Limited or no labour market skills
3. Limited official language skills
4. Mental and physical health concerns
5. Developmental issues for children.

The Global City: Newcomer Health in Toronto, 2011 reports the following findings:

  • Many refugees have vastly different pre-migration experiences compared to those of economic and family class immigrants. As a result, refugees often arrive in Canada with:
1. Greater health risks
2. Greater access challenges
3. Lower levels of education
4. Lower levels of English proficiency.
For example, only 13.6% of refugees (arriving between 2005 and 2009) came with a university education compared to more than 80% of economic immigrants (principal applicants). These factors contribute to poverty and employment challenges.
  • Many refugees that migrate to Canada have undergone difficult and traumatic pre-migration experiences, including exposure to war, torture, violence, targeted persecution, forced labour, forced migration and family separation.
These experiences are significant sources of stress and are therefore risks to refugees’ mental health. Some examples of findings that relate to traumatic pre-migration experiences to health include the following:
1. Settlement challenges: Research reports that Afghan, Karen and Sudanese refugees experience unique settlement challenges as a result of the traumatic pre-migration experiences that many have had and lower levels of education and literacy upon arrival (compared to other categories of migrants).
2. Depression: Pre-migration trauma (e.g., refugee camp internment) and post-migration events have both been associated with depression among Ethiopian newcomers in Toronto.
  • Government Assisted Refugees (GARs) even take longer than refugees in general to become self-sufficient and active participants in their new communities. RAP income support is essential to providing basic life needs while GARs take their first steps towards integration. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC)

Refugee Health Care and Immigration Loans

Permanent Residents to Ontario must also wait for three months to receive OHIP coverage. Changes to the Interim Federal Health Program have reduced or eliminated temporary health care coverage for refugees and refugee claimants who do not qualify for provincial or territorial health insurance plans. The Global City: Newcomer Access to Health Services, 2011

1. The costs of medical examinations abroad;
2. Travel documents; and
3. Transportation to Canada.
Loans are approved according to the applicant’s needs and ability to repay. Assistance loans are also available to newcomers to cover expenses such as housing rental, telephone deposits and work tools.
Depending on their refugee status, these individuals are eligible for healthcare coverage under either the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), and/or the Ontario Temporary Health Program (OTHP). While refugees and refugee claimants are entitled to healthcare coverage in Ontario, these populations face challenges in accessing the healthcare system. One of the reasons for this is the lack of awareness among providers of the health coverage that is available to refugees and refugee claimants. These tools should contribute towards equitable care for refugees and refugee claimants.


General Skills

The Best Settlement Practices, Canadian Council for Refugees, 1998 offers best practice guidelines for working with refugees. Services should:

1. Be accessible services to all who need them
2. Be inclusive, respectful of, and sensitive to, diversity
3. Foster client empowerment
4. Be responsive to needs as defined by users
5. Use a holistic service approach by taking account of the complex, multifaceted, interrelated dimensions of settlement and integration
6. Fully respect the rights and dignity of the individual
7. Culturally sensitive
8. Promote the development of newcomer communities and newcomer participation in the wider community, and develop communities that are welcoming of newcomers
9. Be based on collaboration with partners
10. Be accountable to the communities served
11. Oriented towards promoting positive change in the lives of newcomer and in the capacity of society to offer equality of opportunity for all
12. Based on reliable, up-to-date information

Specific Skills

Due to the multitude of heightened challenges associated with forced migration, refugees often have greater needs and are more vulnerable than immigrants in general. This calls for a greater need for cultural competence and knowledge of general guidelines for dealing with mental health in settlement work. See Settlement and Mental Health for further elaboration.

How to Learn More

40px-Crystal package settings.png Featured Resource! Refugee Rights in Ontario: Essential Information for Front-line Workers - Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO) website

Further your knowledge with practical guides, best practices, projects and research. Find out how to become qualified to work in the field through online or classroom-based training.

Best Practices/Practical Guides

This guide includes information on the refugee claim process, as well as definitions of commonly used terms.
This interactive website aims to support practitioners in sharing and using good practices in the response to refugee needs in urban areas. In addition to good practice case studies, it includes tools, guidelines, research, media, surveys, urban strategies and other information relevant for urban programming.
The objective of this information guide is to assist Joint Assistance Sponsors prepare for the arrival of their refugee families.
An online handbook for people dealing with immigration and refugee matters.
A summary of best practices in supporting refugees in the search for permanent accommodations.
This website includes basic information about filing a refugee claim, including the steps involved, timelines and additional resources that could help you.
This tool kit seeks to educate and inform the immigrant and refugee serving sector about gender issues, and encourages agencies and workers to incorporate gender analysis into their work.
Refugee Mental Health Practices is written for people who work with refugees, particularly those who provide settlement, health, mental health and other social support services.
This online toolkit is a collection of online training, tools and material to be used by service providers on mental health
This handbook for private sponsors of refugees has information for groups who are already sponsoring refugees or intend to do so.
This guide is provided to assist organizations in serving refugees and immigrants who are confronted with barriers as they attempt to reunite with family members.
This resource is intended for anyone wishing to start or enhance outreach and awareness-raising activities on trafficking in persons in their own communities, organizations and sectors.
This provides information for new staff to become more familiar with GARs, the programs that support them and how agencies can best serve them.


Interactive 2-day training series for settlement service providers, offered across Ontario
Individual and in-house group training for staff from immigrant service agencies whose positions are funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration (MCI)

Online Learning

This recorded webinar explores how ideas of masculinity or manhood may act can act as a contributing factor in the perpetration of intimate partner violence (IPV) in refugee couples.
This online resource lets refugee claimants take an online tour of a hearing room. It also has practical information to help them before, during and after their hearing.

Related Projects/Initiatives

This CIC training initiative was provided in response to a need identified by staff and volunteers involved in the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) and the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) Program.

Further Reading

The final report of a conference for Refugee Sponsors, Immigrant Serving Agencies, and CIC staff.
This publication from the Library of Parliament provides an overview of Canada’s refugee resettlement programs, explaining who is eligible for resettlement and the different programs in place. It concludes with some of the operational issues involved in refugee resettlement.
This 8-page booklet outlines Canada's roles in protecting refugees and refugee claimants.

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