Venezuelans crossing unsafe routes through jungles of Darien Gap – UNHCR

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Venezuelans
Migrants from across the world arrive in Lajas Blancas after braving the dangerous Darien Gap. Photo IOM / Gema Cortes

According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration, more individuals, including an increasing number of Venezuelans, are resorting to risky crossings through the jungles of the Darien Gap in quest of safety and stability (IOM).

As the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic hit refugees and migrants from Venezuela in host countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, an increasing number 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 (some 2,500) has almost reached the entire 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, going from 2,928 in the first two months of 2021 to 8,456 in the same period of 2022, including 1,367 girls, boys and adolescents.

The Darien Gap, which marks the border between Colombia and Panama, is one of the world’s most dangerous refugee and migrant routes, consisting of 5,000 square-kilometers of tropical wilderness, steep 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 perpetrating violence, including sexual abuse and robbery.

Many of those who make 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 Government of Panama’s positive efforts to provide assistance and reiterate their commitment to help the authorities ensure access to aid and protection for all those in need, including host communities.

While many of the Venezuelans traversing this dangerous route had previously been living in other host countries in South America, an increasing number are now leaving directly from Venezuela.

Refugees and migrants of various nationalities have been crossing the Darien Gap for years. However, 2021 marked a record in the number of people who risked their lives through the dense jungle separating South and Central America. Some 133,000 people made the journey last year, the large 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 were reported missing or dead [2].

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

IOM and UNHCR call for increased support and investments 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 regular stay arrangements for refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations, and provide protection and assistance according to need, for example for separated or unaccompanied children, victims of sexual or gender-based violence, or trafficking in persona, crack down on traffickers and smugglers, and counter xenophobia and discrimination. Only a comprehensive regional approach can adequately respond to the needs of people on the move.

There are over six million refugees and migrants from Venezuela around the world. The vast majority – nearly five million – reside in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Regional Interagency Coordination Platform for refugees and migrants from Venezuela (R4V) launched a US$1.79 billion regional plan for 2022 to support the increasing needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela and their host communities across 17 countries in the region.

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