Little Birds: Messages from migrant children at the Mexican border

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

drawing by migrant child in mexico

Mexico 2023 © MSF

Like migratory birds, these children cross borders and adapt to survive.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and ¡Hola! Combo present Little Birds, a short animated documentary featuring the stories of seven children living at the Senda de Vida shelter in Reynosa, Mexico, where MSF provides physical and mental health care to people whose lives have been uprooted.

Watch the documentary

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.

“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.”

"Nosotros huimos de Honduras, porque allí en donde nosotros vivíamos mataban mucha gente y por eso nos venimos de allí porque ya tenían amenazada a mi mami. Mi mamá se quería venir para acá por la delincuencia allá, y le llamó a Carlos, el coyote, el que viene para acá."
Drawing by child migrant in Mexico showing mother holding child

Mexico 2022 © MSF

The human impact of US policies

In cities along the US-Mexico border including Reynosa, inhumane US border policies like Title 42 and inadequate humanitarian responses from both US and Mexican governments have resulted in terrible conditions for people seeking safety. In makeshift camps and shelters, many live without cover from rain and extreme temperatures, and lack access to basic services like food, water, and sanitation. Others may live on the streets or wind up in detention facilities, including 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.

drawing by migrant child in mexico

Mexico 2023 © MSF

"I pray to God that I will cross the border and be with my dad there... That I can go to the United States ... and be happy there."

“Yo le pido a Dios que sí voy a pasar y voy a estar algún día con mi papá allá... Que ya me fuera a Estados Unidos… para allá ser feliz.”

How MSF is responding to the needs of migrant children

MSF teams working throughout the Central American migration route witness the physical and psychological impact of migration on children, particularly on those under five years old, who make up a large portion 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 alone, MSF in Mexico treated 2,378 migrant children under the age of five. 

Our teams treat health problems like respiratory infections, acute diarrhea, skin conditions and other gastrointestinal diseases, which are the most frequent diagnoses for children under five. We also see the effects of includes psychological trauma. Children, like adults, may experience post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, grief, and depression resulting from their experiences along the migration route and in the countries they have fled—often with deeper, longer-lasting impact due to their age.

Children are also particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation by smugglers and others who prey on migrants in their journey seeking safety.

Drawing by child migrant in Mexico
Pajaritos drawing by child migrant
Drawing by child migrant in Mexico

Mexico 2023 © 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—whether 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. The workshop is 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.

Watch the mini documentary >