People who embark on this route are exposed to the dangers of the jungle, the weather and the terrain, as well as people smugglers and organized crime. Photo: IOM
The number of migrants irregularly crossing into Panama after embarking on the perilous Darien Gap route reached a record in 2022, nearly doubling the figures of the previous year. According to the Panamanian government, nearly 250,000 people crossed into the country compared to some 133,000 in 2021.
“The stories we have heard from those who have crossed the Darien Gap attest to the horrors of this journey,” said Giuseppe Loprete, Chief of Mission at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Panama. “Many have lost their lives or gone missing, while others come out of it with significant health issues, both physical and mental, to which we and our partners are responding.”
The number of Venezuelans following this route increased over 50 times last year, compared to 2021, reaching 150,327. Nationals of Venezuela were followed by Ecuadorians (29,356), Haitians (22,435) and Cubans (5,961). Of the total, about 28 per cent were female and 72 per cent were male, while 16 per cent were children and adolescents.
According to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project data, 36 people died in the Darien Gap in 2022. However, anecdotal reports indicate that many migrants die in the Darien Gap and their remains are neither recovered nor reported, so this figure presents only a small fraction of the true number of lives lost.
IOM and its partners are stepping up the response in Panama, providing temporary shelter at government-run reception centres, mattresses, blankets, solar lamps, medicines, food items, and hygiene kits. IOM also continues to coordinate closely with government institutions throughout the region, strengthening migration and border management capacities, and to promote access to regularization programmes.
The mixed migration flows transiting through the region are complex and dynamic, Loprete said. Last year’s record numbers coincided with the deterioration of economic and social conditions in origin countries and throughout Latin America. The response to this situation will continue to require a coordinated regional response and international cooperation to address urgent humanitarian and protection needs and related policy challenges.
In this context, IOM advocates for the establishment of safe, orderly, and regular migration routes, channels and mechanisms to protect the rights of migrants in transit and prevent situations of vulnerability associated with irregular migration and smuggling of migrants, among other risks. IOM also calls for the investigation and prosecution of people smugglers and increased support and investments in host communities to strengthen services that benefit both migrants and refugees as well as the local population.