Migrant children tell their stories at the Mexican border

22 Jun 2023

From a shelter in northern Mexico, seven children share their hopes and dreams for the future in the short, animated documentary.

Little Birds is an eight-minute journey that examines the wounds of uprooting, the multiple risks faced by children along the migration route, and the dreams that propel them and lift their spirits despite the indefinite wait in the shelter.

Across the world, more people than ever before have been forced from home as refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people. In Mexico, the majority of people seeking safety are from Central American countries like Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala—countries facing gang violence that is so severe, it’s on par with warzones in other countries where MSF works. In addition to violence, poverty and climate disasters are also driving forces behind migration. People on the move across the region include many families with young children.

One in three migrants detained in Mexico is a minor, and half are traveling without their parents — the highest proportion ever recorded, according to UNICEF. The numbers continue to rise: in the first three months of 2023, 34,489 children and teenagers were detained in Mexico.


Mexico 2022 © MSF

We fled from Honduras, because where we lived a lot of people were being killed. That's why we left, because they had threatened my mom. My mom wanted to come here because of the crime there, so she called Carlos, the coyote, who brings people here.

Honduran migrant child in Reynosa

In cities along the US-Mexico border, including Reynosa, many people live in makeshift camps and shelters without protection from rain and extreme temperatures, and they lack access to basic services such as food, water, and sanitation. Others may find themselves living on the streets or being placed in detention facilities, including children.

MSF teams operating along the Central American migration route observe the physical and psychological effects of migration on children, especially those under five years old, who account for a significant proportion of MSF consultations.

In 2022, MSF provided more than 108,510 medical and 10,183 mental health consultations to migrants and asylum seekers, including thousands of minors. Between January and April 2023, MSF in Mexico treated 2,378 migrant children under the age of five.

The most frequent diagnoses in this age group are respiratory infections, acute diarrhea, skin conditions and other gastrointestinal diseases, largely caused by the poor living conditions and limited access to food and clean water and sanitation in the places where migrants are taking shelter or forced to live in Mexico. 


Mexico 2022 © MSF

During mental health activities and consultations carried out by MSF teams, these children report feeling sadness, nostalgia for their old life, fear, worry and constant stress due to both the traumas survived along the migration route and the deplorable conditions they’re forced to live in in overcrowded shelters, makeshift camps, or the street. 

The animations featured in the Little Birds documentary are based on the children’s drawings and seek to center the voices of those who suffer the impacts of harmful US and Mexican immigration policies. This video is also an example of how MSF tailors our psychosocial activities to the critical needs of children—for whom even the simple act of holding a crayon may allow access to feelings they cannot express in words.

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