In the last four years the number of children and adolescents who crossed the Darien jungle, in the border province of Panama, multiplied by more than 15.
According to the regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), since 2017, the number of children crossing the Darien Gap to the United States, alone or accompanied, increased from 109 to 3,956 in 2019, a figure that decreased last year to 1,653.
It specified that although in 2017 these illegal migrants represented only 2% of the total, in 2020 the proportion exceeded 25%, which demonstrates drastic growth.
“I have seen women leave the jungle with their babies in their arms after walking for more than seven days without water, food or any type of protection”, said Unicef regional director Jean Gough, who assured that these families put their lives in danger, unaware of the risk. Those who finally manage to cross this dangerous border are physically and mentally devastated. Their humanitarian needs are immediate and immense.
But, says Gough, we must not forget the difficult situation of the communities they reach, which are overwhelmed and often do not have basic services.
Recently, the senior official visited Bajo Chiquito, an indigenous community of just 400 inhabitants, located on the border with Colombia and home to some 1.400 migrants, many of them entire families fleeing violence and poverty in search of better opportunities.
Official figures reveal that in the last four years more than 46,500 people travelled through the inhospitable jungle, of which 6,240 were children and adolescents, a trend that has not stopped despite mobility restrictions and the closure of borders to stop Covid-19.
This territory of 575 thousand hectares between Colombia and Panama is considered to be one of the most dangerous migratory routes in the world due to the mountainous terrain, the fauna and insects living there, but also because of the presence of criminal organisations.
“Unless the international community provides more humanitarian support to address the structural causes of migration, it is likely that more and more families with children and teenagers will have no choice but to venture on this dangerous journey via the Darien Gap in search of a better life”, says Gough.
According to the United Nations, the socio-economic repercussions generated by the pandemic, violence, unemployment, racism, xenophobia and extreme weather conditions will increase poverty and will push more people to emigrate north in the coming months. (PL)