UNHCR and IOM call for greater regional cooperation as a record of 250,000 people cross the Darien jungle by foot
PANAMA CITY – As the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Darien jungle between Panama and Colombia reaches record levels, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) are calling for a comprehensive, regional, and collaborative approach to address the serious protection risks and urgent humanitarian needs of people on the move in Latin America and the Caribbean.
According to official government figures, more than 250,000 people have crossed the Darien jungle on foot in 2023 (during the first seven months of the year). To this date, refugees and migrants making the perilous journey have already equaled the total number of individuals who crossed the Darien jungle in 2022, the highest annual number ever recorded.
Among the main nationalities in these mixed movements are Venezuelans (55%), Haitians (14%) and Ecuadorians (14%), as well as people from China, Colombia, and children of Haitian parents born in Chile and Brazil. Other nationalities include individuals from Afghanistan, Nepal and Peru, among others.
UNHCR and IOM work together with national institutions, host communities, and other organizations to provide humanitarian assistance, support the Panamanian government’s response at Temporary Migrant Reception Centers (TRMC), provide information on the risks associated with irregular migration, and assist those in need of international protection with their application for refugee status.
Both organizations have called for a collaborative and regional approach to better respond to mixed population movements in the Americas. In addition to engaging in joint actions that address the causes of displacement and irregular migration, UNHCR, IOM, and their partners work to strengthen communities that host refugees and migrants, and support government initiatives that provide access to refugee status determination procedures, as well as other regularization and legal stay mechanisms that facilitate access to safe and regular pathways as alternatives to dangerous journeys.
In the Darien region, Panama has implemented strategies to fight against human trafficking and migrant smuggling, provide flexible legal pathways for refugees and migrants, as well as promote sustainable economic activities in border communities.
The shocking number of people crossing the Darien highlights the urgent need to expand regular pathways for refugees and migrants, protect the lives and rights of vulnerable migrants, strengthen refugee status determination systems, and find other protection alternatives in the region, while promoting stability in countries of origin, destination, and return in the Americas.
“Multiple interconnected factors – ranging from limited access to fundamental rights and essential services to the impact of violence and insecurity – continue to force people into displacement. We are stepping up humanitarian and protection assistance to address the urgent needs that refugees and migrants have – primarily by providing critical support as regards food, shelter and healthcare, given that their rights and well-being are at stake,” said UNHCR Director for the Americas, José Samaniego.
“The perilous journey through the Darien jungle is not only a testament to the despair and resolve of those seeking a better life, but a grim reminder that migration systems must be urgently updated. The unimaginable risks faced by people crossing the Darien – plagued by hostile natural conditions and organized crime – demand a unified, human rights-based response,” asserted Michele Klein Solomon, IOM Regional Director for Central America, North America and the Caribbean. “This situation is urgent and allows no delays, as it is our collective duty – and not only Panama’s – to offer humane and sustainable solutions that will prevent future tragedies,” she concluded.
The high crossing rate reminds us of the need for a hemispheric response. It is therefore essential to join efforts – both on a regional level and within the countries of origin – to address the root causes of forced displacement and irregular migration, which also requires that the international community show increased solidarity, international cooperation, and shared responsibility.
For further information on this topic, please contact:
Panama: Luiz Fernando Godinho, [email protected] , +507 6356 0074
Panama: Melissa Pinel, [email protected] , +507 6304 3570
Jorge Gallo, [email protected] , +506 7203 6356
Gema Cortes, OIM, [email protected], +507 6269 4574