At a glance: Refugees and the Safe Third Country Agreement

Ploughshares Forced Displacement and Migration

In 2017 a growing number of refugees have made claims after crossing irregularly (not at border points) from the United States into Canada. This has stimulated public debate about the effects of the Third Safe Country Agreement, which bars refugees arriving from the United States from claiming refugee status at a Canadian Point of Entry on the United States-Canada border.1

Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 38 Issue 1 Spring 2017 

Why are more people crossing into Canada from the United States to make refugee claims?

Some people in the United States without permanent status feel unsafe and are afraid that their refugee claim will not be given fair consideration. Some people from one of the six countries targeted by the U.S. “travel ban” are worried that they will not be able to reunite with immediate family members even if they themselves are accepted as refugees. Some people always intended to come to Canada.

What is the Safe Third Country Agreement?

Under the 2004 Safe Third Country Agreement, Canada and the United States designate each other as “safe” for refugees and establish the principle that refugee claimants should seek protection in the first of the two countries that they reach. A person making a refugee claim at a Canadian Port of Entry will be sent back to the United States to claim there, unless s/he meets one of the limited exceptions.

Why do people cross irregularly?

The Safe Third Country Agreement does not apply to people who enter Canada via an irregular means and then make a refugee claim. Refugee claimants entering irregularly generally present themselves as soon as they can to law enforcement officials.

What are the security concerns when refugee claimants cross irregularly?

People crossing irregularly may be at physical risk, especially in the extreme cold. Smugglers sometimes charge thousands of dollars to take refugees across the border.

If the Safe Third Country Agreement were suspended, people could make their refugee claim at the border ports of entry in a safe and orderly way. They could also be provided with documentation, giving them access to relevant basic services and reducing hardship.

​Only those who have a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin could benefit by making a refugee claim in Canada.  Those who do not face persecution would be likely to face removal to their home country shortly after arriving in Canada.


1. Information is drawn from the website of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

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