The number of Venezuelans crossing the Darien Gap is skyrocketing


UNHCR-IOM joint statement

Panama/San Jose – More people, including a growing number of Venezuelans, are resorting to perilous crossings through the jungles of the Darien Gap in search of safety and stability, report UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and the United Nations. International Organization for Migration (IOM).

As the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic hit refugees and migrants from Venezuela in host countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, increasing numbers of people are heading north, joining other groups of people on the move.

According to statistics from Panamanian authorities, the number of Venezuelans crossing the Darien Gap in the first two months of 2022 (about 2,500) has almost reached the total for 2021 (2,819).[1].

The total number of people crossing the jungle so far this year has almost tripled compared to the same period last year, from 2,928 in the first two months of 2021 to 8,456 during the same period of 2022, including 1,367 girls, boys and teenagers.

The Darien Gap, which marks the border between Colombia and Panama, is one of the most dangerous refugee and migrant routes in the world, made up of 5,000 square kilometers of tropical wilderness, rugged mountains and rivers. Crossings can take 10 days or more for the most vulnerable, who are exposed to natural hazards as well as criminal groups known for acts of violence, including sexual abuse and theft.

Many of those making the crossing – usually young adults and families – arrive in remote Indigenous communities hungry, dehydrated, exhausted and in need of medical attention. UNHCR and IOM recognize the positive efforts of the Panamanian government to provide assistance and reiterate their commitment to assist the authorities in ensuring access to assistance and protection for all those in need, including communities of reception.

Many of those making the crossing – usually young adults and families – arrive in remote Indigenous communities hungry, dehydrated, exhausted and in need of medical attention. UNHCR and IOM recognize the positive efforts of the Panamanian government to provide assistance and reiterate their commitment to assist the authorities in ensuring access to assistance and protection for all those in need, including communities of reception.

While many Venezuelans taking this dangerous route previously lived in other host countries in South America, a growing number are now departing directly from Venezuela.

Refugees and migrants of various nationalities have been crossing the Darien Gap for years. However, 2021 marked a record high for the number of people who risked their lives in the dense jungle separating South and Central America. Some 133,000 people made the trip last year, the vast majority of whom were Haitians, including their children born in Chile and Brazil, followed by Cubans, Venezuelans and people as far away as Angola, Bangladesh , Ghana, Uzbekistan and Senegal. In 2021 alone, at least 51 people went missing or died [2].

In response to the growing number of people crossing the Darien Gap, IOM, UNHCR and partners are stepping up their response in Panama, providing temporary shelter in government-run reception centers, as well as mattresses, blankets , solar lamps and hygiene kits, among other material aids both for people on the move and for local communities. The two agencies also continue to coordinate closely with government institutions across the region to ensure access to asylum systems and other regularization programs.

IOM and UNHCR are calling for increased support and investment in host communities to strengthen services that benefit both refugees and migrants as well as the local population.

We also encourage host countries to maintain access to asylum procedures, expand legal stay arrangements for refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations, and provide protection and assistance as needed, for example for separated or unaccompanied children, victims of sexual or gender-based violence, or human trafficking, repress traffickers and smugglers and fight against xenophobia and discrimination. Only a comprehensive regional approach can adequately meet the needs of people on the move.

There are more than 6 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela in the world. The vast majority – nearly 5 million – reside in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V) has launched a $1.79 billion regional plan for 2022 to meet the growing needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela and their host communities in 17 countries of the region.

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For more information please contact:

IOM:

In Panama:
Gema Cortes, IOM, [email protected], +507 6269-4574

In Costa Rica,
Jorge Gallo, IOM, [email protected], +506 7203 6536

UNHCR:

In Panama:
William Spindler, UNHCR, [email protected], +507 6382-7815

In Mexico,
Sibylla Brodzinsky, [email protected], +52 55 8048 5054

Remarks:

[1] Panama National Migration Service
[2] The Americas | Missing Migrants Project

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