Human rights defenders (HRDs) are active in every part of the world and play an essential role in promoting and protecting human rights internationally. In many countries, HRDs are increasingly at risk of violence, often subject to threats and injustices, forced to flee their homes due to fear of attack and reprisal, and on occasion, unable to return to their home country. Individuals from vulnerable and marginalized groups are at particularly heightened risk due to their intersectional identities.
The expansion of the global human rights defenders stream was announced, doubling the number of resettlement spaces from 250 to 500 for HRDs and their family members. The initiative, propelled by the belief that no one should face persecution for championing justice, reflects Canada’s unwavering commitment to providing a sanctuary for those who risk their lives in the pursuit of fundamental freedoms.
Human rights defenders help build inclusive and democratic societies that contribute to a peaceful and prosperous international community. Canada has a proud and long-standing tradition of responding to the needs of vulnerable people. For the fourth year in a row, we were the top resettlement country in the world, welcoming over 47,500 refugees from over 80 countries in 2022. Canada was one of the first countries to offer a dedicated, permanent pathway for HRDs. The expansion of the global refugee stream for HRDs and partnership with civil society organizations fulfills a ministerial mandate commitment and is a clear statement of Canada’s dedication to supporting and protecting HRDs at risk.
As part of Canada’s commitment to HRDs, we will also re-engage Canadian civil society organizations over the coming months on the development of a temporary protection pathway for HRDs in need.
When we provide effective support to HRDs around the world, we enable them to carry out their work in a safe environment while protecting them from harm. Through the newly expanded global refugee stream for at-risk defenders, Canada will help HRDs defend the vital and fundamental human rights that we all deserve and give them more options to permanent residence when it is unsafe to return home.
Human rights defenders are people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights through peaceful means, such as by documenting and calling attention to violations or abuses by governments, businesses, individuals or groups. HRDs face persecution at the hands of both state and non-state actors, including arbitrary arrest, detention, threats, torture, enforced disappearance and assassination.
Front Line Defenders and ProtectDefenders.eu will continue to work alongside the United Nations Refugee Agency to identify, assess and refer vulnerable HRDs to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for resettlement under the Government-Assisted Refugees program. ProtectDefenders.eu, along with IRCC, international organizations and advocates, will collaborate closely with a range of Canadian civil society groups that work on HRD protection to identify defenders at risk worldwide and help them find safe haven in Canada.
In 2019, Canada launched updated guidelines on supporting HRDs called “Voices at Risk.”
In 2021, IRCC launched a refugee stream to provide safe haven for HRDs at risk who are fleeing persecution in their home country.
The expansion of the refugee stream for HRDs is in addition to another recently announced partnership with civil society to protect LGBTQI+ refugees, who are another population at risk. On June 8, 2023, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Government of Canada’s partnership with the non-profit organization Rainbow Railroad to protect LGBTQI+ refugees and welcome them to Canada. Through this partnership, Rainbow Railroad remains committed to identifying LGBTQI+ people and their families who are fleeing violence and persecution and refer them to IRCC under the Government-Assisted Refugees program.
Read the press release here: