A record number of children this year crossed the Darien Isthmus, the dense stretch of jungle between Colombia and Panama, and a record number of children have traveled this year. There were – according to UNICEF – 19,000. Half were under five. “Many of these kids have gone through terrible times, seeing things they shouldn’t be seeing,” says the UNICEF representative in Panama.
The infamous 60 km route of the marshy Darien isthmus, without a permanent circular road, is the route of migrants from Colombia to Panama. This is a key section of the South American transition for those hoping to reach the United States and Canada.
Migrants (most of them from Haiti) trying to walk through the dense rainforest path along the route have reported cases of robbery, mutilation, rape and the discovery of dead bodies, the CNN website writes.
The Reuters Agency, citing data from the National Migration Service of Panama, said at the end of September that over 88,000 people had reached Panama through a difficult jungle route.
The route is very dangerous for children. According to data UNICEF, which works with other organizations and government agencies to help migrants at the extremes of their journey, at least five of them were found dead there, and more than 150 came to Panama without their parents. This year, 19,000 children were to travel the route.
– We see how many of them get separated from their parents during this terrible journey. When they arrive, they are picked up by passers-by. Sometimes babies or very young children are picked up by strangers and brought to our reception centers, reported Sandie Blanchet, UNICEF representative in Panama, to CNN journalists.
Organized crime attracted an increasing number of people in this area. UNICEF points out that sexual violence has become the “instrument of terror” used by criminal gangs there, and that they sometimes become the target of minors. The organization has registered 29 reports of sexual abuse of underage girls there since January.
– One of the things that shocked me during my stay at one of the reception centers was listening to women who had been raped and only asked for new clothes. They were still wearing the clothes they wore when they were raped. They just wanted to get rid of these clothes, Sandie Blanchet reported.
The situation in this area is no better even for families who manage to stay together. “A week’s hike can be brutal,” describes CNN.
– Our parents told us that they started the crossing with water and food, but they did not realize how far it was to the destination and how long it would take them. At some point during the journey, they no longer have water, no food, so they start drinking water from the river that is unfit for consumption – noted the UNICEF representative in Panama. She noticed that children leave the jungle weakened, dehydrated, exhausted and often plagued by skin diseases caused by tropical insects.
Added to this is what Blanchet called the “invisible wounds” left over from the journey. “A lot of these kids have gone through terrible times, seeing things they shouldn’t be seeing,” she explained.
Main photo source: John Moore / Getty Images