04/06/2020 - Events

The migrants of Darién Or the terrible road north (engl)

I am not sure that tomorrow’s world will be a better world, but with a bit of good sense and reason, each one of us can weigh in on the right side of the scale.

I focus on, and dedicate myself, to that which I know how to do, to what I am able to do. My relationship with the indigenous people of Wounaan and Embera is important, I realize this now more than ever.

Each time I telephone, the question from the women in the villages is always the same, “When is Corina coming”? That seems to be the only thing that matters, it is real, tangible. We are focusing on what is essential, the rest will follow.

The pandemic continues to progress across Latin America but no case of COVID19 has been diagnosed in the native villages, so now we speak of other things, the wait for Corina and above all, the cultivation of the land as the daily life continues.

At the moment, men and women are busy sowing rice. It is the staple food in the jungle, there are no meals without rice. At best, it accompanies a piece of meat, more often fried bananas or yucca.

I feel that the fear of the virus has very clearly diminished in the forest villages. Quarantine is still in force and no one is allowed to travel by river from one village to another; meanwhile they continue to cultivate the land, it is the moment to sow the rice

My friends are doing well and when the telephone network allows it, we speak at least once a week.

I have tried to make enquiries about another group of people in Darién, the transient people who are hardly ever spoken about: migrants. It is a delicate subject which seems very sensitive for the Panamanian government.

With a capacity for 200 people, the reception centre for migrants La Peñita, situated in Darién, currently hosts 2000 people of whom 500 are children and adolescents. Today, 43 people are infected with COVID. (Sources ONU and CEJIL*)

In this tropical climate COVID19 is not the only dangerous virus for the people in these overcrowded camps.

Moreover, due to the closure of the borders, an estimated 2,500 migrants are currently stranded in the Darién jungle. The Panamanian government ordered, more than 60 days ago, that the borders be closed.

It is the CEJIL who provide the figures.  The Panamanian government was requested by this organization to provide information on the situation to the Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (Inter-american Court of Human Rights). The CEJIL, since the start of the epidemic has been calling for protective measures for these people.

Any illegal migrant arrested in Darién is immediately placed in detention, many times for an indefinite period.
But the presence of migrants in the dense jungle is a fact probably ignored by most people outside Panama.

The Darién jungle is reputed to be the most impenetrable jungle in America, as well as the most dangerous. It is the reason why is known and is known as the Tapón of Darién, (the “Cap” of Darien); it is also called “the green hell”.

The Trans-American highway which goes from Alaska to La Tierra del Fuego, is interrupted here so, this expanse has remained absolutely virgin territory.

Yet this does not stop people from Ethiopia, Somalia, Cameroon, India, Congo, Bangladesh or even Yemen, who embark on this journey to reach the United States of America or Canada.

Many die in the Darién jungle of exhaustion, from drowning or snake bites; they have no idea what awaits them and many who survive this experience say that here, the worst part of their journey to El Dorado, they have known hell.

Many of them lose their lives in these few kilometers of jungle.

To cross the jungle with their trafficker, they borrow canoes, but a part of the journey must be done on foot. With neither road nor path they have to make their way into the deepest part of the tropical jungle. Victims of the trafficker who abandon them to their fate, the migrants will start here the darkest part of their journey. Those who are stopped or saved by the frontier police (SENAFRONT), the police in charge of the surveillance of this area, the border between Colombia and Panama, have survived an exhausting journey of 4 to 7 days walking in extreme conditions.

As soon as they have regained some of their strength, they go up to the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, from there, all trace of them is lost. 

I have heard terrible and sad stories about these crossings. 

It has been seven years since I arrived for the first time to this region and met migrants stranded here.  I was very surprised, I would not have thought that streams of migrants would pass through the jungle.

Today, I think of all those men, of the women and the children, immobilized, without resources, prisoners of the jungle, their wait for the opening of a route to a better future.



Organización de las Naciones Unidas (ONU)
Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL)