These are the cries of children separated from their parents the world needs to hear.

What does a little boy do when he’s been separated from his dad and is surrounded by strangers? He cries out for him, over and over.

“Papa! Papa! Papa!”

This little boy has been crying out for a long time. You can hear it in his sobs, those gasping sobs that children make when they’ve worn themselves out with tears. But the boy keeps crying, because he’s all on his own, and frightened.

“Papa! Papa! Papa!”

He just wants his dad to rush in and pick him up in his big strong arms and make everything okay again. But that’s not going to happen.

The unidentified little boy is believed to be one of 10 Central American children separated from their parents at the US/Mexico border last week. The investigative website ProPublica has published a recording of the children’s voices, which they say was secretly made at a detention facility when the children had been separated from their parents for less than 24 hours.

They say the recording was made by someone who heard the crying and was “devastated” by it.

Since April, more than 2000 children have been separated from their parents at the border. That’s when Donald Trump began enforcing the “zero tolerance” policy. If any adult, even an asylum seeker, crosses the border illegally with a child, the adult is sent to jail and the child is put into government care.

The little boy crying out for his dad sounds very young. Maybe he doesn’t know many words apart from “papa”. Other children are also wailing, or calling out, “Mami!”


An official can be heard joking, “Well, we have an orchestra here. What’s missing is a conductor.”

Some of the children are a bit older. One little girl is determined to speak to her aunt, and recites her aunt’s phone number to officials.

ProPublica say they called the number in the recording, and spoke to the girl’s aunt. The aunt said she received the call from the six-year-old, and it was the hardest moment in her life.

“She’s crying and begging me to go get her. She says, ‘I promise I’ll behave, but please get me out of here. I’m all alone.’”

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A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the US-Mexico border on June 12 in McAllen, Texas. Image: Getty.

The aunt told ProPublica that she and her daughter had left El Salvador for the same reason as her sister and niece: gang violence.

“There’s nowhere for normal people to feel safe,” she said.

But she said there was nothing she could do for her niece, because she didn’t want to put her own case for asylum at risk.

The recording has been widely shared online.

“I challenge anyone in the Trump Administration to listen to this audio and defend the child separation policy,” Senator Jeff Merkley from Oregon tweeted.


“I am a 71-year-old Vietnam vet,” one person replied. “I couldn’t get through the audio without losing it.”

The seven-minute recording is very hard to listen to. I might be soft, but I wept. A child is a child, no matter where in the world they come from. They cry the same tears. Whether they call out “Papa!” or “Daddy!”, “Mami!” or “Mummy!”, they have the same desperate need for their parents.

Those parents would have brought them to the US hoping to give them a safer life, a better life. Those parents would have brought them out of love.

The American Medical Association has spoken out against the policy of separating children from their parents, saying it “risks scarring children for the rest of their lives”.

Amnesty International says the US Government is “playing a sick game with these families’ lives”.

Four former First Ladies, including Laura Bush, have condemned the policy.

The little girl’s aunt told ProPublica that she knows the girl isn’t an American citizen. But she is a human being.

“She’s a child. How can they treat her this way?”


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