Darien jungle: child crossings in 2023 now exceed the whole of 2022

Statement attributable to Garry Conille, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean

03 August 2023
Un grupo de mujeres y niños en la orilla de un río en medio de la selva
UNICEF/UN0793524

“It is alarming that just halfway through 2023, more children have crossed the dangerous Darien jungle between Colombia and Panama than during the whole of last year. In the first six months of this year, over 40,000 children have already made the perilous journey across the Darien Gap.

“Half of these children on the move are under five years old and have specific needs. I met some of them and their parents when I went to the Darien jungle a few weeks ago. Most of these migrant families have lost everything during the crossing –their belongings, their identity documents, their money; they are left with nothing but the clothes they are wearing. It was heartbreaking to hear these survivors’ stories of hardship.

“With more and more children, including very young children, on the move, it’s vital to urgently adopt more child-friendly national migration policies and more robust humanitarian responses, including age-specific health and child protection services, across the region.

“In support of governments, UNICEF is working along migration routes with local partners to provide lifesaving assistance to children and their families. In Colombia, as they make their way to the Darien Gap, UNICEF and partners are helping to provide safe drinking water, hygiene supplies, and protection services for children, including working with local authorities to identify unaccompanied and separated children, and providing information to families about potential risks on the migration route.

In Panama, where they exit the Darien Gap, in support of the government, UNICEF has scaled up its presence to provide essential services such as water, hygiene and sanitation, spaces for self-care for women and adolescent girls, and health services and psychosocial support and child protection, through child-friendly spaces for children on the move and host communities.

“UNICEF urges countries of origin, transit and destination across Latin America and the Caribbean to strengthen child protection systems, expanding access to gender- and age-responsive, rights-based services during the migration journey and in host communities. Governments must also ensure legal, orderly and safe migration pathways and access to essential services such as education, protection and health for all migrant children. 

“The region’s evolving migration dynamics demand a comprehensive, cross-border and multidirectional response that ensures the best interests of the child. No matter their reasons for leaving home, or their legal status, children have the right to be protected at all times.

Media contacts

Sendai Zea
Communication Specialist (Emergencies)
UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: +507 6821 0843

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