Record number of children crossing the Darien Gap toward the US this year
About 32,500 children have walked through Panama’s jungle in the past ten months. Half of them under 5 years old.
PANAMA CITY, NEW YORK, 19 November 2022 - Since the beginning of this year, the number of migrant children crossing the dangerous Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama on foot has hit an all-time high, UNICEF warned today.
From January to October, some 32,488 children crossed the Darien Gap toward the United States, surpassing the total figure recorded for 2021 by 10 per cent. Additionally, a record number of unaccompanied children, estimated to be around 900, crossed the Darien Gap in 2022, quadrupling the previous year’s total.
Each migrant represents a life with great hardship. During the day’s long trek through the jungle, children and families are exposed to multiple forms of violence, including sexual abuse, trafficking, and exploitation, as well as a lack of safe water and food, insect bites, wild animal attacks, and overflowing rivers. Children under the age of five who make up around 50 per cent of all migrant children are particularly vulnerable to diarrhoea, dehydration, and other communicable diseases. Additionally, the stress and danger associated with this perilous journey leaves many children at risk of emotional trauma.
“Violence, poverty, and the hope to find better life conditions drive families with children to flee their homes and face threats in inhospitable environments such as the Darien Gap,” said Hannan Sulieman, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, during her visit to the Migrant Reception Centre in Lajas Blancas, a facility near an indigenous Embera Community where Panamanian institutions with the support of UN agencies provide them care. “In Panama, like in many other countries, a spike in the number of migrant children has overwhelmed the capacity to provide basic services in response to their specific needs. UNICEF urges all governments to take actions to protect all migrant children, regardless of their origin. Children should never be returned to situations where their basic safety and well-being are at risk.”
With support from the European Union and the United States, and in close collaboration with the government and other partners, UNICEF has scaled its presence from one to five reception centres at the borders with Colombia and Costa Rica and in Panama City. The centres provide safe drinking water, hygiene supplies, psychosocial and health services to thousands of children and pregnant women on the move, as well as to the host communities that live in dire poverty.
From January to October 2022, some 211,355 migrants crossed the Darien Gap to continue to their destination. Children, who represent 15% of people on the move, are deprived for months if not years of education, health and nutrition services, and even of their identity documents.
“The increase in children crossing the Darien Gap is putting extra strain on local communities, institutions and humanitarian agencies on the ground,” said Suleman. ”UNICEF is calling on donors and partners to provide additional flexible funds to respond the demanding humanitarian situation for migrant children in the region.”