Darien Gap
Migrants crossing the Darien Gap AFP

The amount of migrants who have made their way through the Darien Gap -a treacherous jungle path connecting Colombia and Panama, widely used by those seeking to get to North America- has seen an inter-annual increase of almost 50% so far in 2024, according to Panamanian authorities.

Concretely, the figure amounts to some 68,400 people in 2024, a difference of over 22,000 compared to the same period of last year, said Panamanian Security Minister Juan Manuel Pino in a social media post.

The Central American country estimates that the path will see a 20% increase in crossings this year. With that in mind and seeking to stem the flow, authorities are implementing a campaign until at least July that will see an increase in "officers in land, water and air." They also warned that those who have criminal records and are found crossing will be deported.

The amount of people taking this perilous journey has grown exponentially during the past year, reaching over half a million in 2023. Concretely, the figure was closer to 520,000 people, more than double compared to 2022. Around a quarter of the total were minors, said Samira Gozaine, a Panamanian official.

Most of those braving the crossing, which can take up to six days, were fleeing economic misery in Venezuela, with more than 320,000 risking it all in the jungle in 2023, the government said. Ecuadorans and Haitians were the next biggest groups, while over 25,000 Chinese citizens also took on the trek. Vietnamese, Afghans and citizens of Cameroon or Burkina Faso were also recorded.

Migrants face rivers, wild animals, and violent criminal gangs in the jungle. Upon arrival in Panama, they head to Costa Rica, and then Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, before many make their way to the United States border.

Sexual violence has also become increasingly commonplace. According to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), there has been a sevenfold increase in the monthly average of sexual attacks, even as the total amount of people crossing has decreased in December, in accordance with historical trends.

Concretely, the NGO recorded 214 cases in the last month of 2023. The average was about 30 between January and September of the same year. And the figure could be higher, considering many cases go unreported as victims continue their journeys, usually to the United States, or are silenced by those committing the acts against them.

The Guardian reported that cases include rape of men and women in front of their families as a form of punishment for not paying human traffickers. Members of these groups are also detaining migrants after they enter the jungle and forcing them to remove their clothes to search them for money.

© 2024 Latin Times. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.