Panama: Record-breaking 100,000 Refugees and Migrants Cross Darien Jungle in Early 2023

Panama City, April 14 – The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) warned about the alarming increase in people crossing the Darien jungle – the perilous rainforest bordering Panama and Colombia – in search of protection and opportunities.

According to Panamanian authorities, over 100,000 people have crossed the Darien, six times more than during the same period in 2022. If the trend continues, 2023 could see over 400,000 crossings.

Panama is grappling with one of the most challenging mixed movement crises of the past decade as part of an unprecedented displacement across the Americas. After a record-breaking 2022, with nearly 250,000 refugees and migrants risking their lives crossing the Darien in search of protection and better opportunities, the first quarter of 2023 points to a surge in transit through this route.

According to the National Migration Service (SNM) statistics through March, the top nationalities crossing the Darien jungle are citizens of Venezuela (30,250), Haiti (23,640), Ecuador (14,327), China (3,855), India (2,543), and children of Haitian parents born in Chile (2,499) and Brazil (2,072). Other nationalities include individuals from Colombia, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Somalia, and Peru.

The latest monthly monitoring reports from UNHCR and IOM reveal that people frequently leave their home countries for economic reasons, including a lack of employment opportunities. Over half also indicate that they fled their countries due to general insecurity or threats, and specific attacks on them and their families.

Additionally, three-quarters of people have suffered an injury or accident on the journey, and one-third have experienced some form of mistreatment or abuse, specifically during the crossing of the Darien jungle.

"The dangers and levels of violence faced by people crossing the Darien are deeply concerning," said Philippa Candler, UNHCR Multi-Country Office Representative in Panama. "It is urgent to work on a regional protection-based solution to address this unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the Americas."

"The stories we have heard reveal the horrors entire families face when crossing the Darien. Many have lost their lives or gone missing, while others have made it through but now face significant health problems. We are concerned that people considering this journey may not be aware of the dangers associated with this route," added Giuseppe Loprete, Head of the IOM Mission in Panama.

At the borders with Colombia and Costa Rica, UNHCR supports the government's response at the Temporary Migrant Reception Stations (ETRM) by providing information on the asylum procedure in the country, the risks of traveling north, offering psychosocial support, and providing shelter and essential items to those in need. IOM provides food, essential items, health services, management and coordination of temporary accommodation, and implementation of communication campaigns to inform about the risks associated with irregular migration.

In compliance with the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, UNHCR and IOM will continue supporting national, regional, and hemispheric efforts to strengthen the necessary frameworks for international protection and access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, as well as fostering conditions for safe, orderly, humane, and regular migration.