Mind The Gap! Panama Talks About Blocking Darien Pathways To Migrants.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons. A jungle pathway in the Darien Gap, but the real danger comes from crossing rivers.
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More than 30,000 children have crossed the Darién Gap, the dense expanse of jungle straddling Panama and Colombia, in the first four months of this year.

The area, where the explorer Cortez first saw the Pacific Ocean is known as the Gap, because it is the only missing area in the Panamerican Highway which runs from Alaska all the way down to Argentina.

According to figures released by the United Nations’ children’s agency, Unicef, the number of minors embarking on the dangerous journey is up 40% compared to last year.

Most of them are trying to reach the United States.

Migrants making the jungle crossing are often robbed or extorted by criminal gangs and many have been sexually abused.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) recorded 214 cases of sexual violence in the Darién jungle in the month of December alone.

The international medical organisation said migrants had described how they had been detained by armed men who had forced them to remove their clothes and sexually abused them.

While MSF said that most victims of sexual violence were women, its teams have also provided treatment to men and children.

Unicef deputy executive director Ted Chaiban said that many children had died “on this arduous, dangerous journey”.

There are no roads through the Darién Gap and crossing it on foot can take a week.

According to Unicef, 2,000 out of the more than 30,000 children who had embarked on the journey in the first four months of 2024 did so unaccompanied.

“The Darién Gap is no place for children,” Mr Chaiban said.

Those who have had an asylum claim refused or withdrawn and cannot appeal could now also be deported.

Meanwhile VOA reports that Panama is likely to put some roadblocks in the Darient Gap where would-be migrants can be turned around before they ever arrive in Panama proper.

The main migration routes hug Panama’s northern Caribbean coast, offering the most direct path to traverse the roadless jungle.

“If a border closure were declared tomorrow, we establish the checkpoints where we can detain … these illegal immigrants,” one official in the new Panamanian government.

In his presidential campaign, the new president Mulino repeatedly promised to close the Darien Gap, vowing Panama should not be a transit country for migrants and pledged to ask for help from nations including the United States and Colombia.

Mulino again vowed to take a tough stance against unlawful crossings during a speech last week.

“Those who arrive here are going to be returned to their country of origin,” he said.

Since many migrants come from overseas places like Haiti, China, and Africa, it is not yet known exactly how this might work.

Sources: BBC, VOA.
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