Skip to main content

Migrants and refugees cross the Greece-Macedonia border, near Gevgelija, on November 26, 2015.ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP / Getty Images

Canada has rejected just two UN-referred Syrian refugee cases because of security concerns over the past 22 months.

The two cases represent 13 people, according to Immigration Department figures. That means more than 99 per cent of the 1,128 cases referred to Canada between January, 2014, and Nov. 3, 2015, were not of sufficient concern to be blocked for security reasons. It's not clear how many were turned down for other reasons. The cases do not include privately sponsored refugees.

Over all, Canada's acceptance rate for Syrian refugees has been "around 90 per cent," said Immigration spokeswoman Nancy Caron. The figure includes both United Nations-referred and privately sponsored refugee streams.

The low number of security-related rejections presents a contrast to estimates in the United States, where officials said they expect their admission rate for Syrian refugees will "edge up" above 50 per cent. But it is also an indication of why Canada's border services agency and the RCMP have expressed confidence in their ability to assess 25,000 refugees over just a few months.

According to a source, plans for the coming wave of government-sponsored Syrian refugees destined for Canada assume an acceptance rate of about 90 per cent. A case can include more than one person, as families tend to apply together.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum said in an interview he did not know the current acceptance rate for Syrian refugees, nor could he predict what it might be in the future. When asked about the divergence with U.S. estimates, Mr. McCallum did not have an explanation.

"All I can tell you is we are focused on the most vulnerable. We interview all those applicants with great care. The officials will readily put to one side anyone for whom they have a reasonable suspicion but I cannot tell you what percentage of the people they meet that would be," Mr. McCallum said.

Opposition politicians have urged the Trudeau government to be mindful of public safety concerns as it brings in 25,000 Syrian refugees before March, 2016. Earlier this week the government announced that the 25,000 will not be entirely government-sponsored and UN-referred, but would include 10,000 privately sponsored refugees.

Canada has said it will focus on resettling vulnerable refugees it assumes are a lower security risk, such as women-at-risk and complete families. All cases are reviewed individually and undergo security and medical assessments, which include biographic and biometric screening, as well as the use of immigration, law enforcement and security databases, according to the Immigration Department.

Under the U.S. system, all refugees are referred by the UN refugee agency and sponsored by the government. In Canada the system is a mix; some refugees are referred by private sponsors (who must fund their first year in Canada) and then vetted by Canadian officials, while others are referred by the UN refugee agency, vetted by Canadian officials, and if their application is successful the government funds their first year in Canada.

A senior American official said recently in a State Department background briefing that the current approval rate for Syrians aiming to resettle in the U.S. is about 50 per cent and is expected to climb in future. But the approval rates being discussed seem significantly lower than Canada's.

"Right now, our approval rate is a little over 50 per cent, but the other half of that – the other 50 per cent includes both denials and cases that are still pending. And so a number of those cases that are still pending may ripen into approvals, and in fact, we expect that that approval rate will edge up a bit above the 50 per cent," said the official, who is not named under the rules of the briefing.

A Canadian Immigration department spokeswoman said Canada does not comment on the policies of other countries.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe