Panama and Colombia do not protect migrants on the Darién route, according to HRW

Panama and Colombia do not protect migrants on the Darién route, according to HRW

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BOGOTÁ, Colombia (AP) — Colombia and Panama fail to protect hundreds of thousands of migrants crossing the Darien jungle on their way to the United States, and who have become increasingly vulnerable to robberies and sexual violence, according to a published report. on Wednesday by Human Rights Watch.

The organization called on the two countries to appoint high-level officials to coordinate the response to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Darien and recommended that their governments collaborate to improve security and secure more assistance from international groups.

“Whatever the reason for their trip, migrants and asylum seekers who cross the Darien Gap have the right to minimum security conditions and full respect for their human rights during the trip,” said Juanita Goebertus, director of the Division. of the Americas of Human Rights Watch, in a statement before the publication of the report.

Goebertus also called on the Panamanian government to reconsider a recent decision to suspend the authorization of Doctors Without Borders, a medical charity, to operate in its territory.

“Restricting MSF’s work is exactly the opposite of what is needed to address the situation in the Darien Gap,” Goebertus said.

HRW’s recommendations were published as record numbers of migrants cross the Darien jungle on their way to the United States.

Last year, more than 520,000 people crossed the dense, roadless forest between South America and Central America, according to Panama’s immigration department. It is double that in 2022.

Around half of the people who made the dangerous trip were Venezuelans fleeing the political and economic crisis in their country. They joined tens of thousands of migrants from Ecuador and Haiti, as well as some 4,000 Afghan refugees.

The trek through the jungle can take three to five days, and migrants pay hundreds of dollars to guides and smugglers to take them over muddy paths and treacherous river crossings. Dozens of people have drowned.

The Colombian side of the Darién is controlled by the Clan del Golfo, a drug trafficking cartel that taxes local guides and earns up to $125 for each migrant who crosses into Panama, according to estimates provided to HRW by the Colombian military and cited in the report. group’s previous report on Darien, published in November.

In its most recent report, HRW noted that the Colombian government should ensure that prosecutors “investigate the role of the Gulf Clan in the transfer of migrants and asylum seekers to the other side of the Darien Gap.” He also urged Colombia to increase the state’s presence in the area and dedicate more resources to agencies that investigate attacks against migrants.

“Crimes against migrants and asylum seekers in the Darien Gap, including recurring cases of sexual violence, typically go uninvestigated and unpunished,” the report says. “Accountability for these abuses is rare, due to a combination of limited resources and personnel, the lack of a criminal investigation strategy for these cases, and poor coordination between Colombian and Panamanian authorities.”

Doctors Without Borders said in February that cases of sexual violence in the Darién were growing “exponentially” and that in the space of a week it had treated 113 migrants with symptoms of sexual violence in two camps on the northern side of the jungle. The organization said in a press release that it was “outraged by the level of impunity” with which criminal groups operating in the region operated. Shortly after, the Panamanian government suspended MSF operations in the country.

In its report on Wednesday, HRW urged Panama to allow MSF and other humanitarian groups to operate in the country without “inappropriate restrictions.” He also accused the Panamanian government of applying measures that limit the movement of migrants.

Panama follows a so-called “controlled flow” policy under which migrants crossing the Darien are allowed to enter its territory and are briefly housed in two camps, where they can pay to board buses that take them directly to Costa Rica, the next country. on the route to the United States.

Human Rights Watch noted in its report that Panamanian authorities prevent migrants who cannot pay the fares from leaving the camps. The organization asked Panama to modify its controlled flow strategy and establish a plan that guarantees the rights of migrants who wish to stay in Panama to request asylum, in addition to allowing those who want to continue their journey to move freely through the country.

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