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Produced by


Produced with the financial help of

Canadian Television Fund created by the Government of Canada and the Canadian Cable Industry

Quebec (Film and Television Tax Credit - Gestion SODEC)

Canada (The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit)

SODEC Soci?t? de d?veloppement des entreprises culturelles ? Qu?bec

and the collaboration of



CBC Newsworld


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Esly (Honduras)
At 20 years old, Esly has experienced enough violence to last a lifetime. She came to Canadaseeking protection from the violent street gangs of Honduras. Timid and tormented by the past, Esly is unable to speak of the violence she experienced, and the recent murder of her common-law husband. She is living with relatives in Canadaas she awaits her refugee hearing and the decision as to whether or not she and her son will be granted protection in Canada.
“Until you get through that refugee hearing it’s like you are living in limbo and it’s like you have to think about these things everyday because nothing is ever resolved. Hopefully getting through the refugee hearing she’s going to be able to come to some sort of resolution and be able to live with what has happened …” – Stewart Istvanffy, Esly’s Lawyer
Najia (Afghanistan)
As a Human Rights Activist, Najia spent decades campaigning for women’s rights in Afghanistan. Due to her involvement with various social justice campaigns, Najia began receiving death threats. After two of her colleagues were killed and her own family was also threatened, Najia made the difficult decision to flee Afghanistanand ask for asylum in Canada. Due to the strength of her case and the fact that she is a well-known public figure in her country, Najia could be fast-tracked through Canada’s refugee determination system. She is awaiting her expedited interview where her future in Canadawill be decided.

“It’s not easy to be a refugee;  to feel that no one knows you and no one knows your value…how useful you were for your people and country. You are working and investing for almost all of your life to establish yourself in a place and when you are leaving that place, you feel that you’re lost…” – Najia
Leyla (Democratic Republicof Congo)
Leyla fled the Democratic Republic of Congo, with her young daughter Sophia, to escape the sexual violence she had experienced at the hands of soldiers in her war-torn country. During Leyla’s expedited refugee interview in Canada, questions were raised surrounding her identity.  Her case has been sent back into the system where she is awaiting her full refugee hearing. Tormented by the past and also fearful of her indefinite future in Canada, Leyla has to do all that she can to obtain identity documents proving she is indeed who she claims to be. The consequences could mean that both she and her daughter are returned to the violence that they narrowly escaped.

“I feel like now I don’t see my future. I don’t know where I am going.  I don’t know where I am. I am really worried about my daughter’s future. I want her to live like normal kids… That’s why I came here.” – Leyla
Fouad (Palestinian from Lebanon)
Fouad is a refugee claimant that has fallen through the cracks of the system. Both he and his brother Mohamad escaped Lebanonfleeing threats and violence from the Fateh militia. The brothers claimed refugee status in Canadawhere their cases were heard before two separate Board Members at the Immigration and Refugee Board. To Fouad’s dismay, his claim was rejected while that of his brother was accepted. With little recourse and no possibility of appealing the decision, Fouad faces deportation from Canada.

“I think about my wife.  I think about my children. Who stays seven or eight years alone without seeing anyone from their family? It’s very difficult.” – Fouad
Kader (Algeria)
Kader is a blind man from Algeriawho finds himself at the end of the refugee road in Canada. His claim for refugee status was rejected as were his repeated requests to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. In 2005, Kader was given a deportation order and told to leave the country. However, touched by their fellow neighbour, Kader’s community of Pointe St-Charles rallied around him offering him sanctuary in their local church. Since taking sanctuary, hundreds of organizations and community groups have supported Kader’s case. Determined to stay in Canada, Kader and his supporters are fighting to have the Minister of Immigration grant him status in Canada.    

 “The government can’t forget about me, but they can choose to ignore me. That’s how I feel…” –  Kader


Peter Showler, Former Chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board (1999 -2002)
Peter Showlerhas written Refugee Sandwich: stories of exile and asylum, a collection of stories inspired by his experience as Chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada from 1999 to 2002. Peter Showlerteaches Immigration and Refugee Law and Advanced Refugee Law at the Universityof Ottawa. He knows Canada’s refugee determination system inside and out, then frequently speaks and writes on refugee issues. He is both a loyal defender of the system and one of its biggest critics.

“No other judge in Canadamakes decisions that, if incorrect, result in torture or loss of life. That is the potential consequence of a mistake being made at the Immigration and Refugee Board ” – Peter Showler

Fernand Gauthier, Former Board Member of the Immigration and Refugee Board (1988-1998)
Fernand Gauthier spent a decade serving as a Board Member and the Immigration and Refugee Board where he ruled on hundreds of refugee claims. A true insider of the system, Fernand speaks first hand about the difficulties in judging refugee claims and some of the trends he has seen in the system over the years. Fernand continues to work in the refugee field holding regular workshops about Canada’s refugee determination system for community groups and social workers.

“Before you is someone with a story you could never imagine and you’ll never have enough time to really understand, despite all your expertise. Being a Board Member is very tough. You’re never totally certain of doing a good job…” – Fernand Gauthier


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Ce film brosse un portrait humain et inquiétant de cinq immigrants demandeurs d’asile (…) En misant sur l’aspect humain, en nous faisant pénétrer dans la douleur et le quotidien de ces hommes et femmes venus des quatre horizons pour trouver un havre ici, le film tend au spectateur le miroir de sa propre société pleine de failles Odile Tremblay ? Le Devoir

Ce film est un excellent outil pédagogique, mais il est surtout une œuvre de compassion. À voir pour mieux comprendre et agir pour que cesse l’indifférence Louise Dionne ? Relations

À la manière d’un thriller psychologique, la cinéaste, Karen Cho, parvient à tisser une trame de suspense avec le fil des drames que vivent les quatre protagonistes. De la bouche d’anciens commissaires de la Commission de l’immigration et du statut de réfugié et d’avocats, on découvre les méandres de ce difficile parcours et les failles du système. Lisa-Marie Gervais ? Le Devoir

Karen Cho’s documentary achieves something astonishing: It shows how bureaucracy works. Cho’s documentary about the application process for refugee status in Canada is also interesting because of the human stories it tells Melora Koepke ? Hour Montreal


Rendez-vous du cin?ma qu?b?cois (RVCQ) Montreal 2009

DOXA - Vancouver Documentary Film Festival 2009

Refugee Film Festival Egypt 2009

Amnesty International Reel Awareness Film Festival Toronto 2009

Amnesty International Film Festival Vancouver 2009

International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival Scotland 2009

ReFrame Peterborough International Film Festival 2010

World Community Film Festival Courtenay 2010

Festival International du Grand Reportage et du Documentaire de Soci?t? (FIGRA) Section ? Autrement Vu ?, France 2010

Human Rights DocFest 1st Award - Toronto 2010

Gemini Awards Nomination for Best Direction in a Documentary Program 2009

Amnesty International Film Festival Vancouver 2010

Human Rights Film Festival Winnipeg 2011

Statement of intent

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As a filmmaker, much of my work has dealt with issues of identity, immigration, and the re-telling of history from unique and often ignored perspectives. I’ve always been interested in refugee issues and inspired by the courage of people who have fled torture or persecution to begin again in a new country.
The idea for Seeking Refuge stemmed from my unease with the post 9/11 “security atmosphere” and global trends towards closing-off borders. I found that refugees are often painted in the media as “security threats”, “line jumpers” or “pariahs” in our society. I was concerned with how negative stereotypes and misconceptions could imperil the lives of people seeking safety. 
I wanted to make a film that explored the lives of people fleeing persecution and their struggles to seek safety and start over again in Canada. What is it like to leave your family and loved ones behind? How does it feel to have your future, safety, and wellbeing decided by a single interview with a stranger? What goes through your mind when you know you could be deported and returned to danger? Seeking Refuge puts a human face to the issue of refugee protection. Told through the eyes and experiences of refugee claimants, the film allows audiences to better understand the human side of Canada’s refugee system.
In making the film, I was moved by the bravery and perseverance of the refugees I met. Unlike immigrants, refugees never choose to come here; they are forced to flee their homes and loved ones in search of safety. Having escaped violence, death threats and torture, they now face isolation, cultural and language barriers. Yet each had such will to survive, to protect their children, and to start over.
I was also inspired and encouraged by the dedication of the refugee support-workers, lawyers, and Board Members I met who made it their life’s mission to protect the rights of refugees.
Canadais known worldwide as a country that celebrates its pluralism and is defined by its attitudes towards issues such as immigration and refugee protection. But in a world where borders are closing while human migration increases, is this still the case? Our refugee protection system is certainly one of the most generous in the world, but it is also plagued with problems and flaws that can have dire consequences for refugees. I was troubled by how some asylum seekers had fallen trough the cracks of the system and were forced to wait years before a decision would be made on their future. It seemed incomprehensible to me that, in Canada, asylum seekers still don’t have a right of appeal despite the fact that Canadian law calls for one. I was appalled and disappointed by how many pillars of our refugee system are slowly eroding.
In the end, being accepted or denied as a refugee can mean life or death for an asylum claimant. Our refugee protection system holds people’s lives in the balance; this is something we should never forget.
In Seeking Refuge I hoped to explore the personal stories of refugees and speak to the humanity of a system put in place to protect people’s lives.  The result is a moving story of survival, displacement and regeneration. 

Karen Cho

Short summary

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Five asylum seekers set out on the lengthy journey to be accepted as refugees in Canada. Plunging into the experiences, hopes and struggles of asylum seekers looking for protection, Seeking Refuge follows newly-arrived claimants awaiting their hearings and captures the lives of those who have been denied asylum and are facing deportation. From border crossings to refugee shelters, a moving look at the lives of people who navigate Canada’s complex refugee determination system after escaping war, persecution, rape and political unrest.

Long summary

Some 30,000 people will make refugee claims in Canadathis year and 40 to 45% will be accepted as refugees. Seeking Refuge is the moving story of four of them. Following their lives over the course of a year, the film takes an intimate look at the lives of those who have escaped war, persecution, rape and political unrest to seek safety in Canada.
The filmplunges into the experiences, hopes and struggles of asylum seekers as they navigate their way through Canada’s refugee system. From border crossings to refugee shelters, Seeking Refuge follows newly-arrived claimants awaiting their hearings and captures the lives of those who have been denied asylum and face deportation.
In a situation where peoples’ lives are at stake and the decision to grant or deny asylum could mean life or death for the refugee, Seeking Refuge offers a provocative look at both the refugee system and those whose lives lie in the balance.

With the participation of Esly, Fouad, Kader (long version only), Leyla, Najia
Tania Villafranca and her family, Alexander, Sophia, Mohamad Sakr, Jim and Shirley McNair, Stewart Istvanffy, Sabine Venturelli, Fernand Gauthier, Peter Showler, Jared Will, Jordan Topp, Timothy Wichert, Richard Goldman, Father James McDonald.