Geography geeks know the Darién Gap as that curiously roadless connecting point of the Americas, a jungle on the Colombia-Panama border that has long defied transportation infrastructure.
For migrants heading northward, however, it is known as perhaps the most dangerous part of their journey. My colleagues recently went there to see conditions for themselves, and what they found is disturbing.
They saw hundreds of people, including children and pregnant women in need of medical assistance, along this treacherous route. After walking for days, many arrived in the indigenous community of Canaán Membrillo dehydrated, with serious sores and insect bites.
Many had been assaulted by gangs, who robbed and threatened them and, in dozens of cases, sexually abused them.
There were no government doctors to assist people when they arrived in Panama.
One small piece of good news: shortly after my colleagues met with government authorities in Panama City, including the deputy minister of health, the Health Ministry posted one doctor, one nurse, and one assistant in Canaán Membrillo.
But that’s not enough, clearly.
100,000 people crossed the Darién Gap between January and August – the highest figure ever recorded during these months. Most are those fleeing the human rights crisis in Venezuela, though there are also significant numbers of Cubans and Haitians.
They all deserve a safer way to seek protection abroad.