War in Ukraine: What Does It Mean to Be a Refugee?

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On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, causing millions of people to flee and seek refuge in other countries. But what is the legal meaning of “refugee”? How is this status obtained? And what are the roles of the federal and provincial governments?

Did you know?

The Government of Canada has created a special program to allow Ukrainians to come to Canada temporarily and to allow them to work and study here.

For more information, consult the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel page on the Government of Canada’s website.

What is the meaning of “refugee”?

A refugee is someone who has fled their country because they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on their:

  • race,
  • religion,  
  • nationality,
  • membership in a particular social group, or
  • political opinions.

If a person has more than one nationality, they must be outside all their countries of nationality. For example, a person who has both Ukrainian and Polish citizenship would not be considered a refugee in Poland, even if they fled there recently due to the conflict.

How do you apply?

To be legally recognized as a refugee, a person must apply for this status, sometimes called applying for asylum. This can be done either outside or within Canada.

Outside Canada

An immigration officer will process the application. These officers are located in many countries around the world.

If the application is accepted, the refugee can be sponsored by a group of people or an organization (such as a church), or the government may assist them.  

The accepted refugee arrives in Canada with permanent residence status.

Within Canada

If a person applies for refugee status within Canada, an immigration officer will examine whether their claim is eligible. If so, the officer will transfer it to the Immigration and Refugee Board for a hearing and decision.

Which level of government does what?

The Quebec and federal government each has a role in processing refugee claims.  

The federal government is responsible for deciding if the person is granted refugee status. As mentioned, this decision is made either outside or within Canada.

If the accepted refugee wishes to settle in Quebec, the Quebec government decides on the person’s application for selection.

To learn more, please consult the Refugees and asylum seekers page on the Quebec government’s web page.