OTTAWA - The government says North Koreans heading to Canada under a new private sponsorship scheme will face health and security screening before being allowed in.
The Immigration Department says it will also check that refugees fleeing Kim Jong Un's authoritarian regime do not have a criminal background.
Under the new program, Canadian citizens will for the first time be able to privately sponsor North Koreans so they can settle in Canada.
Canada does not usually admit North Koreans because they can safely stay in South Korea.
The government says the immigration minister approved the special policy which will start with a small number of families who have already fled to Thailand. But before being approved to start a new life in Canada they must pass usual checks.
The Immigration Department says HanVoice, a Canadian human rights organization running the program, will be responsible for supporting the North Koreans for a year after they arrive in Canada.
"The focus of the program is to help North Korean women who comprise 80 per cent of the North Korean refugee population," said Sean Chung, executive director of HanVoice. "We are hoping this will be a spark to encourage other countries to create pathways to welcome North Korean refugees."
HanVoice said the pilot program being launched next February will allow Canadian citizens to sponsor five families who have fled to a neighbouring country, such as Thailand.
North Koreans who flee to neighbouring China are sent back and face punishment if caught, while those who make it to Thailand have no official status.
"Under this public policy, a small number of North Korean women and their families outside North Korea may be considered for resettlement to Canada. Once the cases have been referred to the department by HanVoice, the individuals will still need to meet the admissibility criteria to enter Canada," the Immigration Department said in a statement. "This includes health, criminality and security screening."