Human Rights Defenders Can Find Refuge in Canada Under New Initiative

Written on 07/26/2021
Staff Columnist


Canada is creating a new way to permanent residency for people who defend human rights worldwide, and its focus will be women, LGBTQ+ people, and journalists — Canada Immigration News reported.

In many countries across the globe, people are still being persecuted for promoting and defending human rights. Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) promises to bring 250 human rights defenders and their families to Canada every year.

"Often at great personal risk, human rights defenders hold the perpetrators of human rights violations to account and shine a light on stories that otherwise go untold," said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino in a statement Friday.

The initiative will be administered through the Government-Assisted Refugees Program.

"Through this new refugee stream, the Government of Canada stands with human rights defenders by offering them protection and a safe home in the face of real dangers, because offering refuge to the world's most vulnerable speaks to who we are as Canadians," Mendicino continued.

Canada's guidelines on supporting 'human rights defenders' are defined as people who:

  • may seek to promote and protect civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights
  • they may also promote and protect the rights of specific groups: women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, persons with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons, individuals belonging to religious, ethnic or linguistic minorities
  • or focus on specific themes such as labour rights, or rights related to land, natural resource management and the environment, and democratic governance

On Friday, July 16, the IRCC said it plans to prioritize human rights defenders that are at heightened risk, like women, journalists, and the LGBTQ+ community.

"Front Line Defenders welcomes the launch of a dedicated Canadian refugee stream for human rights defenders at risk, and we commend the Canadian government on its leadership in this area," said Andrew Anderson, executive director of Front Line Defenders, in a statement.

"The vast majority of human rights defenders seek to find ways to continue doing their critical work inside their countries. However, in some extremely dangerous situations, human rights defenders are forced to flee their countries and seek asylum for safety. These defenders face unique protection challenges, and this new initiative will hopefully serve as a lifeline for some of these courageous individuals who have risked everything for their peaceful human rights work," he added.

The government said it will team up with Front Line Defenders, ProtectDefenders.eu, and the United Nations Refugee Agency to find those most vulnerable and in need of relocation.

"We all need to support human rights defenders to exercise their right to defend rights in their communities, but we also owe them practical protection in those dire situations when they cannot return to their countries," said Gerald Staberock, chairman of the board of ProtectDefenders.eu and secretary-general of the World Organisation Against Torture, in a statement.

"The ability to provide safe resettlement options with the support of Canada is excellent news for ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders mechanism, and we are looking forward to our partnership with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada," Staberock continued.

Anyone hoping to be a refugee under this new mandate must be referred to the Government of Canada by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Learn more about how to apply and what is required by clicking here.


(Image Credit: Amnesty International)