Minors crossing Darien Gap jungle from Colombia to Panama increased eightfold this year, says UNICEF
Between January and April of this year, there were a record 25,431 minors who entered Panama by crossing the 266-kilometer-long natural border with Colombia
May 31, 2023 8:25am
Updated: May 31, 2023 8:25am
The number of migrant children crossing the jungle between Panama and Colombia significantly increased during the first four months of the year, according to a statement released on Tuesday by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Between January and April of this year, there were a record 25,431 minors who entered Panama by crossing the 266-kilometer-long natural border with Colombia, according to UNICEF.
An estimated 40,438 minors crossed the jungle last year, setting this year’s figure on its way to surpass that number. The U.N. believes that at least 300,000 migrants—adults and minors—will cross the border by the end of the year, increasing from last year’s record-breaking 248,000 migrants.
The Darien Gap is known as a treacherous area between the two South American countries used regularly by thousands of migrants attempting to reach the United States and by transnational criminal organizations.
According to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least 36 migrants died in 2022 while crossing the Darien Gap, where travelers face the dangers such as animals, strong river currents, and ravines, as well as the presence of organized crime.
According to UNICEF, many of the minors cross the border without an adult and do not have anyone waiting for them once they arrive in Panama. According to the organization, there are an average of eight or 10 migrant children who arrive at migrant reception stations in Panama by themselves every day. Last year, the average was three unaccompanied minors a day.
“Violence, poverty, and the hope to find better life conditions drive families with children to flee their homes and face threats in inhospitable environments such as the Darien Gap,” said Hannan Sulieman, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, last year.
In April, the U.S., Panama, and Colombia announced a campaign to help curb the unprecedented number of undocumented migrants attempting to cross the Darien Gap. As part of the plan, the three governments seek to create “new lawful and flexible pathways” for migrants, as well as invest in Colombian and Panamanian border communities to reduce poverty and create jobs.