UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Courtesy of NFB

Everybody's Children

Documentary exposes the lack of support for minors seeking asylum

By Jasmine Budak

Everybody’s Children
Directed by Monika Delmos

Filmmaker Monika Delmos creates a touching portrait of two teenage refugees as they navigate life in Toronto and undergo permanent-residency processing. Their stories are harrowing. Sallieu Dainkeh, 16, is from war-stricken Sierra Leone, where he witnessed rebels kill his mother. Then there’s 17-year-old Joyce Nsimba, who fled a life of forced prostitution in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Both were smuggled into Canada — refugee minors alone, adrift and underserved by the system.

Delmos follows her characters for a year, capturing mundane teenage life — in home economics class, at the Eaton Centre yearning for things they can’t afford — and the hardships of starting a new life. Joyce seeks out the Salvation Army where she sings with the choir, and Sallieu finds solace among other migrants at the Matthew House, a refugee settlement shelter. He is frank about his isolation. He longs for people with whom he can “share ideas and stuff.” Even the ebullient Joyce, with her wide, warm face, projects a quiet loneliness even though she is happy to be in Canada, where she finally “has a place.”

Through these characters, the film exposes the lack of support for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. Sallieu and Joyce get through because of a few pivotal people.

“Most Canadians presume that for anyone that comes into Canada asking for asylum as a refugee that there’s a system in place, where they’re sheltered and welcomed and assisted,” says Anne Woolger-Bell, executive director of Matthew House. “There is nothing; they are numbered among the homeless, and most fall through the cracks because nobody knows about them.”  The government gives them $630 a month, which barely covers rent and food, and additional welfare payments are available as long as they stay in school. The application for permanent residency alone is $525.

Day-to-day troubles aside, Sallieu and Joyce are painfully aware of the fortunes of their new home. “Here you don’t think about someone coming up behind you with a machete,” says Sallieu. “Being here is like heaven.”

Jasmine Budak is a writer in Toronto.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image