Sexual rapes of migrants increase in Darien

CITY OF PANAMA.- The NGO Doctors Without Borders denounced an increase in sexual violations and the “brutality” suffered by many migrants that cross the inhospitable jungle of Darienon the border between Colombia and Panama, on its route to the United States.

In just one week in February, the health teams of this NGO have treated 113 migrants, including nine minors, who suffered sexual assault by criminal gangs operating in the Darien, Doctors Without Borders said in a statement. In all of January there had been 120 cases.

“They threaten them, they attack them, they systematically sexually abuse women, in front of other migrants and even in front of their families and children,” said MSF head of mission in Colombia and Panama, Luis Eguiluz.

“In a last episode, several migrants have detailed to us how those who refused to collaborate were shot dead,” added Eguiluz, quoted in the statement.

According to the NGO’s figures, in January the gangs raped three women every day on average and in February the figure rose to 16 per day.

“It is inconceivable. We had already reached very high numbers in December and January and there had been talk of deaths occasionally. But now in the last rounds the level of brutality is extreme,” said Eguiluz.

The Darién jungle, a jungle border between Colombia and Panama 266 km long and 575,000 hectares in area, has become a corridor for migrants from South America trying to reach the United States in recent years.

It takes travelers between three and six days to traverse the jungle, where they face many natural dangers, but also criminal gangs who rob migrants or demand payments to guide them on their route.

In 2023, a record of more than 520,000 people crossed this dangerous route. Of them, about 120,000 were minors.

In the first two months of this year, more than 72,000 people crossed the Darien, up from 50,000 in the same period last year. Almost two thirds are Venezuelans, followed by Haitians, Ecuadorians, Colombians and Chinese.

“Reported incidents of abuse are increasing, several migrants have lost their lives and others are witnesses or victims of violence, sexual abuse, physical threats and discrimination,” declared the head of the Mission in Panama of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). ), Giuseppe Loprete.

“Migrants spend days in the jungle, in remote areas or in precarious boats, without enough food or medicine, following false information, and become vulnerable to all types of abuse,” he added.

In 2022, 62 deaths of people trying to cross the jungle were recorded, according to official figures. In 2023 at least 34 died, but the numbers could be higher.

The Panamanian government does not know the exact number of migrants killed due to the inaccessibility of the jungle, the lack of complaints or the abandonment of the bodies, which are sometimes eaten by animals.

“The numbers of violence and sexual violence that we see in Darién are unusual, I have not seen them in other humanitarian crises,” said Eguiluz, who asked the Panamanian government to redouble efforts to protect migrants.

“It is an aberration that is increasing and, what is worse, it does not seem to matter to anyone, we do not see major changes in the impunity with which the assailants operate,” he added.

The Panamanian government tries to dissuade migrants with messages warning of the danger of Darién. However, the great migratory flow does not stop.

The migratory wave led Panamanian authorities to install, with the support of international organizations, migrant care centers in populated areas of Darién, which provide basic services to travelers.

“Cross-border and regional cooperation is necessary to address the crisis as soon as possible along migratory routes within the region,” Loprete said.

FOUNTAIN: With information from AFP