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Despite What Stephen Harper Said, Canada Does Not Lead The World In Taking In Refugees

The prime minister claimed Canada was "the most generous country in the world" when it came to opening its borders to migrants. But that doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

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There are a staggering 59.5 million refugees around the world, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Laszlo Balogh / Reuters

Prime Minister Stephen Harper claimed Thursday that Canada leads the world in taking in refugees.

"For Canada, we are the most generous country in the world, per capita, in terms of our acceptance of immigrants and refugees," he said at a campaign stop in British Columbia.

Is this correct?

Harper chose his words carefully and picked a specific dataset that makes Canada look better than its peers. But even then, it's not true.

Canada accepts about a quarter-million immigrants each year. But the refugee number is one tenth of that.

Dimitris Michalakis / Reuters

Canada approved 23,286 refugees in 2014.

This number includes people who already living in Canada waiting to go through the refugee system. In terms of actual refugees admitted from oversees, Canada let in 12,300 people in 2014.

Either way you look at it, Canada accepts less than one refugee per 1,000 Canadians each year.

That's just a tiny fraction of the rates of the top host country for refugees, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Turkey, which is next to the conflict in Syria and Iraq, took in about a million refugees last year. Even when you look at it by population, Turkey has taken in 30 times more refugees than Canada. And they only ranked 7th last year.

So what is Harper talking about? He seems to be looking at "resettled" refugees. Resettlement is when a refugee is transferred from an asylum country to a new state that is allowing them to permanently settle.

So a refugee who takes asylum in Turkey would not count. But if that person then moves to Canada, they would be considered as resettled. This dataset captures only 103,800 people out of the almost 60 million refugees in the world.

Even then, Canada is not first. Last year Australia had a resettlement rate of .5 people per 1,000, beating Canada's .35 per 1,000, according to the United Nations.

The United States had the most by volume, taking in almost three quarters of resettled immigrants.

But even this is not giving the full picture. Germany appears nowhere on the list despite taking in many times more refugees than Canada this year. That's because of a quirk of classification.

Germany is letting in tens of thousands of refugees as "humanitarian admissions" and will allow them to apply for asylum. That falls into a different category.

Germany accepts 40x as many. And that's not even top 10. This is who really shoulders the global refugee crisis: 8/

Canada is nowhere to be seen on the list of the 15 countries who spend the most on refugees.

In fact, there is some evidence that it's harder than ever for refugees to get into Canada.

Canadian Council for Refugees

The government overhauled the refugee system in 2012. Critics have argued the changes make it more difficult to apply for refugee status. Figures from the Canadian Council for Refugees show claims to the Immigration and Refugee Board have dropped by thousands since the reforms were passed.

You can look at those stats in two ways — that fewer refugees are being allowed to apply, or that people who are ineligible are being weeded out of the system earlier.

Could Harper have been talking about total immigration numbers instead of refugees? Even then, Canada is not top in the world.

Citizenship minister Chris Alexander has also leaned on the resettlement statistics in past speeches to portray Canada as at the top of the heap.

Harper was not specific in his speech, and perhaps he was referencing some other metric. But no independent numbers seem to show Canada as first in the world at taking in refugees. BuzzFeed Canada asked Harper's office what numbers the prime minister was citing, but has not received a response.

Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Paul McLeod at paul.mcleod@buzzfeed.com.

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