Colombia and Panama “fail to protect” Darien migrants, HRW condemns

Bogotá, April 3 (EFE).- In a year when a record number of migrants are expected to cross the Darien on their way to the United States, Colombian and Panamanian authorities “do not protect them or help them”. They are investigating the violence they are victims of, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released Wednesday.

“Colombia and Panama can and must do more to protect these rights, as well as the rights of indigenous communities who have suffered years of state neglect,” said Juanita Gobertus, Americas director of HRW.

The report, Abandoned in the Jungle: Protection and Assistance for Migrants and Asylum Seekers in the Darien Gap, is the second in a series of HRW documents on the dense jungle that has become a passageway for thousands of migrants seeking a better future or fleeing violence. .

During visits to the border between Colombia and Panama, HRW confirmed that efforts to ensure access to food, water and basic health services are insufficient, affecting the rights of both migrants and local communities, who have been marginalized for years and experience high quality. Poverty rates and lack of opportunities.

Crimes against migrants in Darien, including persistent cases of sexual assault, “are routinely uninvestigated and unpunished,” the report said.

More than half a million people crossed the Darien in 2023, including 113,000 minors, and the high number of migrants who crossed the jungle between January and February 2024 suggests that this year will exceed 700,000.

Whoever crosses the Darien

The arduous journey through the jungle, full of dangers, natural and man-made, is undertaken mainly by Venezuelans, Haitians and Ecuadorians, but also from other continents such as Asia and Africa.

More than 1,300 people reported to Doctors Without Borders (MSF) that they experienced sexual violence between April 2021 and January 2024, but the actual numbers may be even higher. However, between January 2021 and December 2023, Panama’s attorney general’s office said it was only aware of 285 victims of sexual violence.

In addition, “dozens, if not hundreds, of people lost their lives or went missing.”

In a case documented by HRW in October 2022, a Venezuelan couple embarked on a journey with their three children, and during the arduous walk, a stranger offered to take their six-year-old son to speed up the journey. ahead of the pack.

When they caught up the next morning, the man told them that his son had drowned while crossing the river. It took eight days for authorities to launch a search, and Interpol issued an alert for his disappearance more than a month later. Until now, the child remains missing.

Pay attention to two countries

The NGO laments that Colombia “lacks a clear strategy to guarantee the rights of migrants who cross,” adding to “the sparse state presence in the region” and leaving them in the hands of armed groups such as the paramilitary group El Clan del Gulf. , which in recent years, in addition to drug trafficking, has also been involved in migrant trafficking.

The Panamanian government uses a “controlled flow” strategy that focuses on “restricting the movement of these people into Panama and ensuring that they reach Costa Rica quickly, rather than meeting their needs or securing asylum claims.”

HRW called on both countries to appoint a senior official or adviser responsible for humanitarian crisis response, who would also allow coordination between authorities.

The document also questions the Panamanian government’s decision to suspend MSF’s work in the country: “Limiting MSF’s work is exactly what is needed to address the Darien Gap situation,” Gobertus said in the study.

It’s a crisis that “requires a broader effort from the entire region,” which is why “Latin American and US governments must reverse measures that impede access to asylum and force people to cross the border.”

“Colombia and Panama should not be alone in facing the challenges of the Darien Gap,” Gobertus concluded.

Source: El Diario

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