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!


The author is baptized at Central United in Calgary. (Photo courtesy of Al Coe)

Why I got baptized in a United Church at the age of 42

by Jacqueline Mercer-Livesey

"I told myself that I didn’t need to go to church to believe in God. I found peace and the Holy Spirit in the things that surrounded me. But still, there was a nagging sense of something missing."

Promotional Image


Editor/Publisher of The Observer, Jocelyn Bell.

Observations: The rewards of letting go

by Jocelyn Bell

Editor Jocelyn Bell reflects on the upcoming changes for The United Church of Canada, the magazine and in her own life.

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image


June 2018

The moment the Pope asked me to pray for him

by Miriam Spies

A United Church minister on the impact of a simple gesture from a powerful man.


July 2018

Best self-care tips for caregivers

by Kate Spencer

Counsellors, teachers and ministers share what it looks like for them.


July 2018

Meet your 2018 moderator nominees

by Mike Milne

Later this month, General Council commissioners will choose the United Church’s next moderator. As of press time, 10 leadership hopefuls had been announced. We asked each of them to sum up their pitch in a tweet.


July 2018

A fond farewell to presbyteries

by Steven Chambers

They will likely be eliminated this year as the United Church restructures. Steven Chambers celebrates the end of an era.


July 2018

Instead of retirement, these two nurses are battling Vancouver's opioid crisis

by Roberta Staley

At age 71 and 65 respectively, Evanna Brennan and Susan Giles embrace their unconventional work in the Downtown Eastside.


June 2018

I hate you, Canada, for teaching people to treat me like this under your name

by Zach Running Coyote

A Cree actor says he blames our country for the racist comments recently directed at him in a McDonald's restaurant.

Promotional Image