In February, data showed that, for the fifth year in a row, more Nigerians emigrated to Canada in 2019 than the year before.
Another marker of that exodus is that the number of Nigerians issued permanent residence (PR) permits by the Canadian government has tripled since 2015. In 2019 alone, 12,595 Nigerians were issued the permits.
But while those figures are based on people who moved to Canada through its skilled workers immigration program, Nigerians are also taking other paths to move to the North American country.
In fact, Nigeria is set to end 2020 with the highest number of finalized asylum claims (i.e claims that were either accepted, rejected, abandoned, or withdrawn) to Canada for the fourth straight year. Nigeria overtook China as the country with the highest claims back in 2016. Nigeria’s hold on the top spot is despite a major slowdown in asylum claim rates given global travel restrictions in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, Canada has seen a 71% drop in finalized asylum claims so far in 2020.
Canada’s “open doors”
While Canada’s skill-based immigration program offers immediate residency permits and a long-term pathway to citizenship, the country’s perceived openness to immigrants, particularly relative to the US in recent years, means it has also become subject to rising asylum claims as well. Canada recently announced plans to welcome an additional 1.2 million immigrants over the next three years.
Canada’s ongoing immigration drive to boost its labor force has added to the country’s appeal for middle-class Nigerians who are increasingly pursuing exit plans to leave Nigeria given the country’s ongoing economic travails. Indeed, for many Nigerians, moving to Canada is also predicated on opening up increased educational and life opportunities for their children, particularly given Nigeria’s precariously low human capital spending. In 2018, Nigeria overtook India as the country with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty.
With refugee protection claims typically based on allegations of persecution in a person’s home country, a range of factors have seen Nigerians jump to the front of the queue, including persecution based on religion and sexual orientation. With homosexuality still criminalized under Nigerian law, it has become an oft-cited reason for Nigerian asylum seekers in Canada: between 2013 to 2017, Nigerians made up about 25% of claims based on sexual orientation.
But the high rate of LGBT-related claims from Nigeria (60% of Nigerians seeking asylum in that period claimed to be bisexual compared to an average of 12% for other nationals) has raised questions that some of the claims may be fabricated.
Political persecution is also emerging as a factor driving these claims as well, especially in the wake of high-profile protests against police brutality in Nigeria. As several reports and incidents suggest that the Nigerian government is cracking down on the recent EndSARS protest organizers, there has been a spike in local interest in Canada’s refugee protection programs—enough to force the country’s High Commission to Nigeria to clarify the proper channels for seeking these claims.
Sign up to the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief here for news and analysis on African business, tech, and innovation in your inbox