Little Birds: migrant children tell their stories from a shelter in northern Mexico
“I would like to be in my country, I miss it,” says Luis as he draws with crayons on a blank sheet of paper. He is in the chapel of a shelter for migrants in Reynosa, very close to the U.S. border. At just nine years old, Luis can tell countless stories about what he has been through since his family had to flee Guatemala to save his life and the lives of his family members.
This is just the beginning of Luis’ story, who is featured, along with six other migrant children 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.
Little Birds is a partnership between the medical-humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the audiovisual production company ¡Hola! Combo, which seeks to center the voices of migrant children who suffer the impacts of U.S. and Mexican immigration policies. Together with the animations that portray the children’s drawings and powerful audio, the documentary tells a beautiful yet devastating story about this unacceptable situation.
“Figures from National Migration Institute indicate that one in three migrants detained in Mexico is a minor,” says Adriana Palomares, MSF Country Director in Mexico and Central America. “In our consultations we also see a large proportion of children, specifically those under five years of age, and so we know firsthand the impact of migration on their physical and emotional well-being.”
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.
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.
According to Gabriela Badillo, director of ¡Hola! Combo, the idea behind the short documentary is to show the strength and courage of these children and how it helps them survive this threatening reality time and time again. “The image of birds seeks to convey this idea that we move and adapt between different environments to survive.”
“With this film, we seek to reach the public through real stories about what we see daily,” said Palomares. “It is our hope that these children’s voices will touch their hearts and they will join our calls for a safe and dignified asylum system that protects the lives of migrants.”
Like migratory birds, these minors cross borders facing adverse situations to survive. From a shelter in northern Mexico, the voices of children show that dreams survive despite the uprooting and hostility of the journey.
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