Consider the Darian Gap, bravely taking the treacherous path to a better life TOU

Consider the Darian Gap, bravely taking the treacherous path to a better life

 TOU

Consider the Darian Gap, bravely taking the treacherous path to a better life

With a bag full of hopes and dreams, Irina arrives at the Migrant Reception Station (ERM) on the edge of the Darian Gap in El Salvador, El Salvador. The look in her eyes shows the pain of a mother who will do anything to protect her children.

Ms. Urena and her husband Eduardo decided to travel north from Venezuela in the jungle with their two children in search of a better life.

The decision to leave his country, home, family and friends and start again was a difficult one for him and many other immigrants. Arriving at the station they were hungry, dehydrated and tired.

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© IOM / Gema Cortés

Migrants arrive at the San Vicente Reception Center exhausted after brave the dangerous Darian Gap in Panama.

‘We saw bad things along the way’

“The road was not easy. I felt that our lives were in danger. It was challenging because we saw so many ugly things along the way, things I never thought I would see in my life, “said Mrs. Urena.

According to the Panama Migration Service, about 134,000 people, 80 percent of them Haitians, risked their lives by traveling through dense jungle in 2021.

This is a record number of people crossing the 10,000 square mile rectangle of trackless forests, rugged mountains, stormy rivers, swamps and deadly snakes on both sides of the border between Colombia and Panama.

Today, it is even more dangerous for criminal groups and smugglers to pass through this distance, who control the territory, often extorting money and sometimes sexually assaulting migrants.

However, the dynamics are changing, and are rarely heard in the Creole forest. Haitians are still trying to move from Colombia to the United States, but they are no longer in the majority, and the Spanish immigrants from Venezuela are now on the trail.

The number of Venezuelans crossing the Darien Gap in the first two months of 2022 (some 2,497) has reached an all-time high for about 2021 (2,819). Venezuelans were the main group crossing the heart of the rainforest, but the data also show Cuban, Haitian, Senegalese and Uzbek nationals traveling among others.

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Arrived at Lajas Blankas in Panama with blood blisters on a migratory leg.
© IOM / Gema Cortés

Arrived at Lajas Blankas in Panama with blood blisters on a migratory leg.

High risk of violence

Coming out of the gap, most migrants pass through the Bajo Chiquito or Canan Membrillo communities, before making their way through the muddy waters of the Chukunak River on foot or by community boats. You are more likely to endure physical and mental violence throughout the journey.

For the International Organization for Migration (IOM)IOM) Which is providing assistance to people in transition and host communities in coordination with other agencies and the Panamanian government, a perennial concern is to obtain adequate funding for their life-saving work.

“There is an urgent need to double the coordination between governments and international cooperation to respond to the humanitarian needs of the population in transition,” said Santiago Paz, chief of IOM Panama and head of the Panama Global Administrative Center (PAC).

Among the newly arrived migrants are Venezuelan mother Johaini and her one-year-old child. “We faced a lot of difficulties, we were robbed, and we saw dead people along the way,” she says. “Although we prepared ourselves as much as possible by watching many videos about the route, nothing could fully prepare us for what we experienced in the jungle.”

IOM Panama’s Mariel Rodriguez says, “The migrants we help in ERM are in a very vulnerable position and have a very diverse need for medical assistance, clothing or basic hygiene products, from knowing which country they are coming to.” “The IOM team responds to these requirements and coordinates with other government agencies and organizations to ensure access to available services.”

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Darian Gap, a Senegalese migration after crossing Panama.
© IOM / Gema Cortés

Darian Gap, a Senegalese migration after crossing Panama.

Babel in the forest

With a population of about 7,000 people, the town of Matati has been flooded with migrants in recent years – mostly from Venezuelans such as Mrs. Urena, as well as Cubans, South Americans, Africans, South Asians and others, all targeting the United States or Canada. .

For thousands of migrants around the world, the perilous, roadless jungle becomes a path to desperate hope north, in search of a better life. The bubble of languages ​​merges into the vast forest, some of which never survive, although the actual mortality is unclear.

Migrants continue to pass through the Darian Gap, with many stories or signs of trauma, such as Shahzad of Pakistan (“We found bodies and skulls during the walk”, he said) or Esther, who arrived exhausted, with blood-stained legs, others Are carried by people.

Others arrived with stories of hope. “It was very difficult to come. I went into maternity and I gave birth to my baby in the middle of the forest, only with the help of my husband. I had to drink river water for days. However, the new arrival gave the whole family a new sign of hope that I did not expect, “said Bijo Zina Kalunga, 33, of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Or tears of joy, as families reunite after many days in the jungle, like Venezuela’s William, Georges, and their six-month-old baby. “I was really sad, and I kept praying for my husband to come. I can’t say how happy I am to have him back, “says Georges.

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Tears of joy as the family reunites after a long day in the woods.
© IOM / Gema Cortés

Tears of joy as the family reunites after a long day in the woods.

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