More than 150,000 migrants cross the Darien jungle between Colombia and Panama each year in search of a better life. On average, one fifth are minors, but so far this year, the number has skyrocketed. They undertake the dangerous adventure and sometimes end up abandoned or orphaned after losing their parents on the journey.
In just six months since the beginning of 2023, more than 40,000 migrant children have crossed the Darién jungle, the natural border between Panama and Colombia, fleeing conflicts, natural disasters and poverty. The figure, notably higher compared to previous years, was presented by the Panamanian National Migration Service.
Coming from Latin American countries, but also from Africa, these children face a dangerous journey, full of mighty rivers, rugged landscapes and wild animals. The physical risk is evident, but just as important is the psychological impact they can suffer, since they live “andxperiences traumatic, seeing to others children die, to people drown, by witnessing of one situation of violence, of abuses, where people they attack for steal money, abuse of the women sexually, etc., seeing people fall down of a ravine and die, to their own relatives that No hold on”, details David Arosemena, national director of Children’s Villages in Panama.
“So, by that the children are separated of his family? Because to times the families are people very greater either with conditions physical that No are enough for pass the jungle of Darien”, he continues. Those people, who fear not arrive to their destination, “then they send to their children with others people foreign forward”.
In many cases, when they lose their relatives, these minors are handed over to known coyotes, who help them cross the jungle. However, if they survive the journey, they are generally handed over to the authorities, who are not always prepared to take in minors in this situation.
“Treating like criminals”
“When the children arrived in Darién, they were received by the border police, and this border police has a children’s unit, and the children were taken primarily to places of detention where they took people with conditions related to further with crimes”, says Arosemena.
A situation that, according to him, goes against human rights: “It is not to exaggerate, but if you put them in a jail where people who are in conflict with the law go, you are treating them as criminals”.
As a solution, Aldeas Infantiles has created temporary homes, with a family atmosphere, so that children can wait there until a family member picks them up. However, they defend that the ultimate objective will be to create the necessary conditions in their countries of origin to prevent them from being forced to migrate.