Twice more children migrating through the Panama Darien Gap this year
Urgent measures are required to improve the capacity to temporarily host them.
Panama, 17 June 2022 - In a year, the number of children crossing the Darien Gap in Panama doubled to reach over 5,000 since the beginning of 2022, UNICEF said today.
In May the number of children migrating was 4 times more than in May 2021, from about 500 to over 2000 in May 2022.
“We are in the middle of the rainy season right now and our teams in the field are seeing a massive increase of children putting their lives at risk and crossing the jungle by foot in the worst weather conditions”, said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “It saddens me that more and more boys and girls are forced to flee from their homes as the only viable option to survive.”
In the first five months of 2022, more than 32,000 migrants crossed the dangerous Darien route versus 16,000 during the same period in 2021. About 1 in 5 are children.
The impact of the journey on children on the move is increasingly worrisome, as they face several threats such as drowning, violence, including sexual violence, risks of trafficking, exploitation and serious health conditions.
Almost 170 children have been identified as unaccompanied or separated from their families at the Migratory Reception Stations in Panama, where they were supported until being reunited with their families. Several cases of boys and girls without identity or birth registration have also been identified, leading to the risk of statelessness.
While the number of migrants continues to rise by the week, living conditions are less than adequate due to the heavy rains and the ongoing renovations that aim to improve the sheltering conditions at the reception centers.
As a result, migrant families are staying in temporary accommodation facilities, which are overcrowded and inadequate for children. Water and basic services do not match the growing humanitarian needs on the ground, leading to higher health risks for babies and mothers.
UNICEF recognizes Panama’s commitment to the protection of children on the move and calls on the authorities to redouble their efforts to protect and care in an increasingly challenging context in the Latin America and Caribbean Region.
“What most frightens me is that the health conditions of children and pregnant women will further deteriorate as the rains intensify in the coming weeks. The current state of the temporary shelters does not match the increased demands and children’s needs. Improving the conditions in reception centers and access to basic services must be given priority,” says Gough.
With funds from the European Union and the Government of the United States, UNICEF provides essential services such as water, hygiene and sanitation, mother and child health services and psychosocial support through child-friendly spaces.
From January to May 2022, more than 3.2 million liters of drinking water and 700 gender- appropriate hygiene kits were made available to adults and children on the move and in host communities.
Over 6,000 migrants, of which the majority were children, received psychosocial support to help them overcome the trauma of the journey. UNICEF also provides temporary housing to about 60 unaccompanied and separated children in transit.
According to UNICEF estimations, a record 3.5 million children, 47% more than last year, will be affected by migration flows in the Latin America and the Caribbean Region in 2022. Increased investment is needed to help the region’s most vulnerable. Governments must urgently respond to the challenges involved in the protection and care of children and families migrating. Policymakers must commit and take immediate action to help protect all migrant children and families while on the move.
UNICEF works in some of the world's toughest places, to reach the world's most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/lac/en.