IOM, UNHCR suspend resettlement travel; Canada returning irregular migrants to U.S.

Mohanad Moetaz
Published: March 24, 2020

Countries around the world have taken drastic measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), such as introducing international travel restrictions and tightening their borders. Canada is no exception.

However, Canadians, permanent residents, immediate family members of Canadians and permanent residents, as well as study and work permit holders will still be able to return to Canada. 

In light of travel restrictions worldwide, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have announced that they are taking steps to suspend resettlement travel for refugees.

These organizations are concerned that without the suspension of resettlement travel, refugees may be at risk of getting exposed to the virus.

The UNHCR assisted the resettlement of some 63,600 refugees last year, a large portion of whom were from Syria. Resettlement consists of transferring refugees from a state that has granted them asylum, to a third state that has promised permanent settlement.

Canada is one of the few countries offering resettlement solutions through the UNHCR programme. Other countries include the United States, Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom, as well as the Nordic countries. Since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in 2016, Canada has been the number one country to offer resettlement solutions.

“Resettlement provides a vital lifeline for particularly vulnerable refugees, and IOM and UNHCR will continue their work in refugee-hosting countries, in collaboration with all relevant partners, to ensure that the processing of cases for resettlement continues,” the UN Refugee Agency mentioned in a statement.

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A video posted on Twitter by UNHCR Canada states that refugees fleeing wars may still be allowed to cross borders, even if countries adopt measures to help control the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Despite these claims, many countries have temporarily suspended refugee intake and resettlement arrivals, according to UNHCR.

As such, the UNHCR and IOM are trying to appeal to countries to allow the entry of refugees at risk, especially in the most extreme of cases.

Canada’s commitment to refugees

Canada recently announced its 2020-2022 immigration levels plan, which revealed plans to allow more than one million immigrants to enter Canada over the next three years. Of these new immigrants, Canada would seek to welcome 154,600 refugees. With this announcement coming amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic, it is unlikely that the plans will change, and Canada may remain committed to refugee intake, including resettled refugees.

Non-resettled refugees are those who have not yet been granted asylum in a second country.

In light of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has put in place special measures. Irregular migrants and refugees crossing the border by foot from the U.S. will be returned, even if the asylum claim is made at a port of entry.

All refugee claimant appointments are cancelled until April 13th 2020. The IRCC will contact refugee claimants with information about new appointment dates.

Asylum seekers can still submit an in-person refugee claim if they do not have a pre-scheduled appointment.

Once the coronavirus has been contained, Canada will likely return to welcoming large numbers of resettled refugees and being a global leader in this regard.

Find out if you are eligible for any Canadian immigration programs

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