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As Christians, we are called to care for our neighbour, and to protect the vulnerable, the needy and the oppressed.[1] Throughout Scripture, God specifically commands us to treat the alien with justice and compassion. Leviticus 24:22 instructs: "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong. . . . you shall love him as yourself".

The Issue

A refugee is defined as a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted..." is afraid to remain in his or her country of origin and is forced to flee in search of protection.[2] Every refugee has the right to asylum. This right is laid out in the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and the additional 1967 Protocol. In 1969, Canada signed both, adding a legal obligation to its moral responsibility to protect refugees.

Already traumatized by what they have suffered, refugees find themselves in a new, unfamiliar country, surrounded by strangers. They are vulnerable and virtually powerless, yet even in a country like Canada, they are often met with scepticism and discrimination.

A Flawed System

While Canada prides itself on welcoming refugees, our refugee determination system is badly flawed. Its most fundamental flaw is its failure to grant refugee claimants who are handed a negative decision the right to an appeal based on the merits of their case. Without the right to appeal, genuine refugees who receive an erroneous decision face the prospect of deportation to their home country, where they are likely to face persecution or even death.


Refugee claimants who have been rejected in error often have no recourse other than to turn to the kindness of Canadian church congregations. In such dire situations, churches may feel compelled to offer sanctuary as a temporary measure of protection. There are estimated to be less than ten refugees currently living in churches across Canada. .[3]

These congregations believe that when Canada fails to protect vulnerable people, there is a moral obligation to respond with justice and compassion to those who have been wronged, and work to ensure that commitments to refugees are respected. Accordingly, there is a centuries-old tradition of respect for the sanctity of a church building by our society’s authorities. This respect continues to save lives.

In light of our flawed refugee determination system, the practice of sanctuary serves as a necessary stop-gap. It is not, however, a long-term solution. The solution is a refugee determination system that is just, transparent, efficient, and equitable.


[1] See Psalm 10:18, Jeremiah 5:28.
[2] 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Available at  < http://www.ohchr.org/english/law/refugees.htm>.
[3] Kairos Canada. http://www.kairoscanada.org

Issue: Refugees

EFC Refugees Resettlement Initiative
Canada’s Refugee Determination System
Current Status
What You Can Do

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Related Issue: Global Poverty
Related Issue: Human Trafficking

Helpful Links

Canadian Council for Refugees

The Refugee Highway Network

UN High Commission for Refugees

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