The migration route through central America and Mexico is long and dangerous—those who take it cross rivers, mountainous regions, and swampy terrain. It’s not just adults that risk this dangerous journey, children of all ages are also forced to flee their homes in search of safety or a better life. Some children are with their families—often having left home without much or any explanation—others travel alone. They all face a future of uncertainty.
How do children perceive migration?
Generally, children don't receive any explanation about the events that happened to them before they left home or along the migration route. People think that because they are young, they don’t understand that something bad has happened, and therefore don’t need an explanation. And because they don’t have the necessary tools to understand and manage the emotions they are feeling, they express those emotions through their behaviour.
“Many times, when the children are with me, [they exhibit] some bad behaviours associated to their experiences,” said Esther Huerta, community advisor at the Comprehensive Care Centre in Mexico City. “For example, violence. Not because they want to [harm] others, but because that's what they have known, and they don't know any other way to interact.”
MSF staff use play therapy and recreational activities to help children name their emotions, talk about them, redirect them, and manage them. These techniques also help our teams understand the emotional state of a child so that they can then provide appropriate psychological care.
One of the activities is called “How is your heart?" where children name emotions, draw a heart and colour it in according to how they have felt that week or that day.
“The emotions that are generally predominant are: ‘anger’ because they are tired of waiting; ‘sadness’ from being away from their country; and ‘fear’ of not knowing what will happen to them,” said Lourdes Ceballos an MSF health promotion supervisor who works in our project in Reynosa, northern Mexico along the US border.