Canada needs to do better for Black refugees and immigrants


Black refugees from Africa still face barriers to integration and long processing times.

In 1951, Canada did not sign the newly adopted UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. It feared the United Nations treaty would limit its ability to deport communists and others considered security risks, by giving these foreigners the right to legal representation at deportation hearings. Canada finally signed the treaty in 1969. Still, there is continuing evidence that Black refugees from Africa face excruciatingly long processing times and other barriers to integration in Canada.

Prior to 1960, Black Africans were a very small, scattered and unknown group of newcomers to Canada. For decades, British and other Europeans were deemed the most “desirable” citizens, whereas Asians and Africans were considered “unassimilable” and therefore “undesirable.”

Expanding immigration for non-white people was initiated by Lester B. Pearson’s Liberal government through the revised Immigration Act in 1967. This ushered in many waves of immigrants from Asia, South America and Africa. Five decades later, visa applicants from Africa find it more difficult securing permission to visit Canada than applicants from any other continent.

In 2011, the government introduced caps on how many applications refugee sponsors could submit in a year, as a solution to application backlogs. Additional limits were put on visa offices in Cairo, in Nairobi, Kenya, in Pretoria, South Africa, and in Islamabad. These were removed in December 2016 amid accusations of being selectively and systemically prejudicial to refugees from African countries.

Three years ago, the Catholic Register reported that church-sponsored Iraqi refugees were arriving in Canada after an average of 15 months while refugees from Ethiopia and South Africa endured waits of 68 and 69 months, respectively.

Canadians must do more to live up to our reputation as a welcoming country. The federal government needs to tackle inequities that delay the processing of refugee applications from Africa and the barriers that deter Black immigrants from integrating fully into Canadian society.

Client Focus: 
Sector Overview: