MARCO E. L. Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, on Friday announced the launch of a dedicated refugee stream to provide a safe haven for human rights defenders at risk who are fleeing persecution in their home country.
Canada will become one of the first countries to offer a dedicated, permanent pathway for human rights defenders, and will resettle up to 250 human rights defenders per year, including their family members, through the Government-Assisted Refugees Program.
The government said that it will work with Front Line Defenders and ProtectDefenders.eu, alongside other Canadian and international partners, including the United Nations Refugee Agency, to identify human rights defenders who face security risks and are in need of resettlement, and to find solutions for human rights defenders in need of protection. This will include a particular focus on people at heightened risk, such as women, journalists and LGBTQ2 human rights defenders.
International experts and advocates have called for dedicated protection measures for human rights defenders. With this announcement, Canada is helping to provide more options to human rights defenders in need of protection so that they have a pathway to permanent residence when they cannot return home, the government said.
Mendicino said: “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. 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.”
Andrew Anderson, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders, said: “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. 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.”
Gerald Staberock, Chair of the Board of ProtectDefenders.eu and Secretary General of the World Organisation Against Torture, said: “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. 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.”
* Human rights defenders are people who, individually or in association with others, nonviolently promote or strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national or international levels.
* Human rights defenders face persecution at the hands of both state and non-state actors, including arbitrary arrest, detention, threats, torture, enforced disappearance and assassination.
* In 2019, Canada launched new guidelines on supporting human rights defenders called “Voices at Risk.”
* As part of the 2020–2022 Immigration Levels Plan, 250 additional government-assisted refugee spaces were added, beginning in 2021, to support admissions under this stream.