If you are planning to make a refugee claim at the airport in Canada


Before flying to Canada

  • Tell a friend or family member in Canada when you are coming, so someone is aware if you don’t make contact
  • Make good-quality scans of all your important documents, and save them to a cloud platform or send them to someone you trust
  • If you cannot travel with them, arrange to have any other original identity documents sent by secure mail to someone you trust in Canada
  • Do not destroy any travel documents – real or false – before arrival

Upon arrival

  • Tell the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers that you are making a refugee claimeven if they are checking people as they get off the plane, or even on the plane if it has landed
  • Tell them if you need an interpreter, and what specific language and dialect interpreter you need – if at any point you do not understand the interpreter, you must say so!
  • Try to be pleasant, patient, and cooperative, but know your rights and insist on them
  • Ask to be allowed to recover your luggage, or have CBSA recover your luggage, as this usually comes after making the claim and sometimes the airline has put it aside
  • If you would be more comfortable, ask to be interviewed by an officer of the same sex/gender
  • Expect to wait a long time for your identity to be verified and the paperwork to be done so you can be released
  • Expect to be photographed and fingerprinted
  • Expect to have your identity documents seized
    • CBSA must give you a certified copy, and a “Notice of Seizure” for each document
  • Tell the officials if you are hungry, thirsty, have to use the washroom or have any medical needs
    • At various points you will be asked about whether you have any medical issues – no medical issue will be held against you in a refugee claim, so be honest
  • Tell the truth about who you know in Canada and who you plan to stay with (if anyone)
  • Be very clear about names and family relationships – terms like “aunt”/”uncle” and “brother”/”sister” do not always translate properly
  • If asked to write out the reason you are making a refugee claim in your own language, include the fact that it is a summary, that you do not have access to any documents, and note where you are not sure about dates or details
  • Be honest – but also explain that you do not know the answer if you do not know – when asked about how you traveled to Canada, what documents were used, and how arrangements were made
    • Under most circumstances, a refugee cannot be punished for using improper means to reach safety as long as they are truthful about it as soon as they know they are safe

NOTE: CBSA cannot release you until they are satisfied about your identity. In some cases, this may mean that they feel they have to detain you until, for example, they are able to receive your genuine identity documents. This is unpleasant, but it does not change the fact that you are a refugee claimant. You will be fed and housed. You will receive medical treatment where necessary. Your detention will be reviewed by a tribunal within 48 hours, 7 days, and 30 days, and then every 30 days. You will be allowed to continue your refugee claim.


  • Be intimidated by CBSA uniforms
  • Lie to CBSA officials
  • Try to bribe CBSA officials – this is a serious crime in Canada
  • Destroy identity documents
  • Take advice from interpreters (unless they are interpreting for a lawyer or other authorized representative) or human smugglers
  • Agree that information is correct when it isn’t
  • Give incomplete answers in order to try to make the process faster or more simple
  • Say that you understand an interpreter when you don’t
  • Sign anything you don’t understand


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