Global perspective Human stories

Protect those on the move using deadly Darién crossing

A migrant from Venezuela talks to his family after crossing the Darien Gap into Central America.
© IOM/Gema Cortés
A migrant from Venezuela talks to his family after crossing the Darien Gap into Central America.

Protect those on the move using deadly Darién crossing

Migrants and Refugees

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), on Thursday, called for urgent action to address the deepening humanitarian emergency in the Americas, as the number of migrants and refugees traversing the perilous Darién jungle crossed an unprecedented half a million this year.

That figure is more than double the crossings made in all of 2022.

Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, underscored the scale of the crisis.

“The challenges that the unprecedented population movements in the Americas pose are formidable…no country on its own is equipped to address them,” he said.

“Only by coming together with all relevant stakeholders in a collaborative route-based approach and looking at what we can do at each step of the journey can we tackle them effectively,” he added.

Filled with peril

The Darién Gap is a dense and challenging tropical forest region that spans over 575,000 hectares along the border between Panama and Colombia. It has become a treacherous route for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers attempting to travel from South America to North America.

Those attempting the crossing must brave grave dangers, including disease, natural hazards, sexual and gender-based violence, robbery and kidnapping.

Many also fall prey to people traffickers who exploit the desperation of migrants, forcing them to exorbitant sums of money.

Most on the move come from Venezuela, Haiti and Ecuador, as well as from other countries in South America and the Caribbean. Others come from further afield, including Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Find safe pathways

The UN agencies highlighted the importance of expanding refugee resettlement and regular migration pathways for saving lives and harnessing the potential for development that refugees and migrants bring.  

“Migrants and refugees are powerful drivers for development and for stronger and more diverse communities and societies,” said Amy Pope, IOM Director-General.

“Host countries require greater support from the international community to strengthen national services and provide integration opportunities for people to find stability and avoid embarking on dangerous journeys,” she added.

Hampering pathways for regular migration would only lead to people taking more dangerous routes which make trafficking more profitable, and restrictive policies that create barriers to asylum, the agencies warned.

IOM Video | Five Things To Know About People Moving Through the Darien Gap (May 2023)