FACT or FICTION: Social assistance for refugees


A poison pen letter has been circulating through e-mail and social media for several years now, which falsely claims that refugees receive significantly more income assistance than Canadian pensioners.  Readers of the missive are invited to share the author’s outrage.  But the provocative claims have been disproven by the Government of Canada and by the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR).


For example, the Cholokian family will not receive any government assistance from Canada or from their new home province, British Columbia. They came to Canada as privately sponsored refugees.  Mania, her spouse Asved, and their two sons arrived on December 31, 2015.  The family fled Syria because of escalating violence and spent three years as refugees in Lebanon.


“Refugees come to Canada in different ways, but no matter the category, refugees receive very limited income assistance from the government,” states the CCR.  So here are the facts:


  • Refugee claimants and refugees who are granted Canada’s protection receive no special income assistance.  Depending on the regulations in their province, they may be entitled to social assistance like other residents.


  • Government assisted refugees may access financial assistance from the federal government through the Resettlement Assistance Program.  This assistance is based on need and usually limited to a maximum of one year.  It is tied to provincial social assistance rates.  This particular group is also entitled to a one-time settlement allowance to cover basic household effects.


  • Privately sponsored refugees, like the Cholokians and many of the refugees arriving this winter, are not entitled to any federal or provincial government assistance.  Their sponsors must support them fully throughout the period of their sponsorship, which is usually one year.



On Sunday, January 10, 2016, an anonymous cyclist pepper-sprayed a group of 20 children and adults outside a Muslim community centre in Vancouver.  They had gathered for a social event to welcome newly arrived Syrian refugees.  Canadians of all kinds decried the attack.


In nearby Richmond, Asved Cholokian stated of the incident, “I think it is an individual attitude that doesn’t represent Canada.”  He said he loves Canada and all the people who have helped welcome him.  “Our impression is that it’s a very beautiful country, it has beautiful nature and the people are very kind and friendly.”


 “The resettlement of Syrians is a shared national project that acknowledges two important truths.” says Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.  “These are that Syrians need the protection Canada offers, and that Canada needs the skills and determination that Syrian refugees bring.”  In a December 2015 speech, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights praised Canada for its welcome, especially in contrast with the hurtful rhetoric on the rise elsewhere. 


Alex Neve suggests, “We should not just bask in such praise; we should leverage it and press other nations to follow our lead.” 


Canada is living up to its obligations, both moral and legal, when it lends a hand to refugees.   And our entire society benefits as a result.


This article is part of the Refugees Welcome Here! Campaign, a collaboration between the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnistie internationale Canada and Amnesty International Canada.  View and download more campaign resources here.


Take the Refugees Welcome Here!  Pledge to express your support for refugee rights.


April 4th is Refugee Rights Day in Canada.  June 20th is World Refugee Day.  Please join others in your community to advocate for the rights of refugees and celebrate their contributions to Canada.