In 2021, 133,726 Migrants Passed Through the Darien Gap, One of the Most Dangerous Border Crossings

Migrants wait to board a boat to the border with Panama in Necoclí, Colombia. (EFE / Mauricio Dueñas Castañeda)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Necoclí, Colombia, 8 October 2022 — In the Colombian town of Necoclí they are already used to hundreds of people camping on their beaches every day to wait for boats that will take them to the border with Panama, on a migration to the United States that is constantly growing and threatens to “explode.”

It’s an uninterrupted flow of people from all over the world, entire families who walk together and share the desire to get a better future at any cost, even that of passing through one of the most dangerous border crossings in the world: a week-long adventure through a lush, mountainous jungle, which they say swallows people.

Last year, according to figures from the Panamanian authorities, 133,726 people crossed the Tapón del Darién, a number that had never been recorded before due to the difficulty of the journey. The numbers are constantly increasing, and in the first nine months of this year  151,572 have already passed through.

Necoclí is the first stop on the route through the Darién. This is an Antioquia town located on the east coast of the Gulf of Urabá, in the Colombian Caribbean, where, lulled by the vallenato and salsa music of the beach kiosks, migrants rest, laying on the sand while their children swim in the sea or make castles with dominoes.

“The situation is difficult. This problem is going to explode in our faces,” says a person from Capurganá, the town that receives them on the other side of the Gulf of Urabá, almost on the border with Panama and who knows the business well. He says that between 1,200 and 1,600 people pass every day, while last year, due to limitations of the Colombian Government, only 650 could pass.

Since it began to receive this constant exodus of people in transit, a phenomenon that has always existed but that skyrocketed last year, Necoclí has evolved. Migration is a business that is easy to perceive.

Now the company that manages the boats for the migrants — the same ones used by tourists who want to enjoy this paradisiacal corner of Colombia — is expanding; the company has bought three more boats.

There are more hotels and informal businesses selling food and rubber boots or exchanging dollars that flourish along the humble passage where garbage accumulates in the corners and migrants walk back and forth gathering what is necessary for the jungle crossing.

The wooden plank dock of just 200 meters now looks suspiciously at the brand new cement dock, which they built quickly, but which cannot be inaugurated because it’s too high for the boats.

Those who pass by here have also changed. While in previous years most were Haitians and Cubans, this year more than 70% are Venezuelans, some of whom get on the boats humming Pedro Navaja, by the Panamanian Rubén Blades, when they hear it in the background.

Leonardo hasn’t got tickets until Sunday, so his family, the 40 people who accompany him, will have to wait until then on the beach.

“Some say that Venezuela has improved, but it’s a big lie,” says Yasmari, one of the members of this large family. They come from Venezuela — or from other countries where they first tried their luck, such as Peru, Chile or Colombia itself — encouraged by acquaintances from the United States who tell them that things are better there.

They don’t hesitate to confess that they’re afraid of what they have in front of them, a jungle in which the risks of flooding rivers, insect bites, steep hills full of mud and torrential rains come together with robberies, rape and other dangers.

But that, they say, is better than staying where they come from. Fear doesn’t overshadow the will to achieve a future, although that means entering a reality that borders on the unreal and, above all, the inhuman.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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