Darién Gap: Record number of migrants risk jungle crossing

BARRIO (BBC) – Record numbers of migrants are braving the Darién Gap, a dense stretch of jungle straddling Panama and Colombia.

More people have taken the trek so far this year than in all of 2022, Panamanian officials say.

Almost a quarter of a million people crossed the wilderness on foot in the first seven months of 2023, despite international efforts at curbing the flow.

Most of them are Venezuelans, Haitians and Ecuadoreans trying to reach the US.

According to data collected by Panamanian officials, a fifth of those on the trek were children.

Marisela Silva Chau, of the regional branch of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), called the situation a “major humanitarian crisis”.

The Darién Gap is an expanse of thick rainforest which creates a natural barrier between South and Central America. There are no roads and it can take a week on foot.

Migrants run the risk of criminal gangs, who rob and extort them, while hot and humid weather and wild animals pose further dangers.

The Red Cross has set up areas where migrants can get first aid and have access to water. It says many of those who survive the trek arrive “in a devastating and inhumane condition”.

“They are injured, dehydrated, with severe allergic reactions, and complications from pregnancies or chronic illnesses. Many have been victims of abuse and violence,” said Verónica Martínez, who leads the organisation’s humanitarian response in Darién.

At least 36 people are known to have died attempting the crossing last year, according to the International Organization of Migration.

It says that the real figure is likely to be much higher as the remains of many victims are never recovered.

In April, the governments of the United States, Colombia and Panama launched a two-month campaign to curb migration through the Darién.

They announced they would use “new lawful and flexible pathways for tens of thousands of migrants and refugees as an alternative to irregular migration”.

However, officials gave little detail about those pathways.

Figures released by the Panamanian authorities on Monday suggested that July had seen a jump in the number of migrants with 52,530 making the journey through the Darién.

Officials from the Central American nation said this was particularly worrying as in previous years they had seen a drop in numbers in the rainy months.

Drownings are one of the main causes of death in this area crisscrossed by streams and rivers.

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