Human Rights Watch says Panama, Colombia neglect migrant safety in Darien jungle


(MENAFN) On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) leveled accusations against the governments of Panama and Colombia, asserting their failure to adequately "protect" migrants traversing the perilous Darien jungle en route to the United States.

In a comprehensive 110-page report, HRW detailed instances where authorities on both sides of the border fell short in safeguarding the fundamental right to life of migrants navigating the hazardous terrain. The report highlighted lapses in investigating violations, which encompassed issues such as sexual abuse, armed group activity, kidnappings, and fatalities occurring along the journey through the jungle.

“Whatever the reason for their journey, migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Darién Gap are entitled to basic safety and respect for their human rights along the way,” stated Juanita Goebertus, who serves as Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

According to HRW's findings, Colombia's presence in the region is notably sparse, leaving migrants vulnerable to exploitation by armed groups like the Gulf Clan, which exerts control over the flow of migrants.

Conversely, the Panamanian government has adopted a "controlled flow" strategy, which imposes restrictions on the free movement of migrants within the country and prioritizes expediting their departure to Costa Rica rather than addressing their humanitarian needs, as outlined in the report.

“Colombian and Panamanian authorities can and should do more to ensure the rights of migrants and asylum seekers crossing their countries, as well as of local communities that have experienced years of neglect,” declared Goebertus.

In 2023, over half a million individuals, including 113,000 children, traversed the challenging terrain of the Darien Gap, as reported by Panamanian authorities. There is an anticipation that this number may surge even higher in 2024.

Disturbingly, since 2021, more than 1,500 individuals have reported instances of sexual violence, while the International Organization for Migration (IOM) documented 245 cases of disappearances between 2021 and March 2023.

However, it is suspected that the actual number of disappearances could be significantly greater. Despite these alarming statistics, crimes perpetrated against migrants in the Darien Gap are often left uninvestigated and unpunished by authorities from both Panama and Colombia.

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