Winner of the 2023 Humanitarian Visa d’or Award - International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
Two crises converge at the perilous stretch of land between South and Central America known as the Darién Gap. There is the economic crisis and the humanitarian disaster in Latin America, plus the bitter fight over immigration policy in the United States.
The Darién Gap is the sliver of land between South and North America. It is a mountainous tangle with no roads, and for decades has been seen as a last resort, with notorious challenges: rivers that sweep away bodies, hills that cause heart attacks, mud able to swallow up children, and bandits ready to kidnap, attack and kill.
In 2022, some 250,000 people, including at least 33,000 children, traveled through the Darién Gap. By the end of 2023, it is expected that as many as 400,000 will have made the journey, nearly all intent on reaching the United States.
In 2022, the overwhelming majority of people crossing the Darién Gap were Venezuelan, many worn down by years living in a failed economy, but they are just part of a diverse range of migrants walking through the jungle. Others crossing in significant numbers are from Cuba, Haiti, Ecuador and Peru, and there are also Afghans fleeing the Taliban who now form one of the fastest growing groups.
The story begins in a Colombian beach town, passes through several farms and indigenous communities, across the mountain aptly named the Hill of Death, and then along several rivers before reaching a government camp in Panama.
The United States government is trying hard to cut off the route. In April, the U.S. and its allies in the region announced a 60-day campaign intended to end the illicit movement of people through the Darién Gap. The government has also imposed new rules that are expected to make it harder for all asylum seekers, including Afghans, to enter the United States.
Today, more than 80 nationalities attempt the perilous passage on their way to the United States, risking all in the hope of a better future for their families.
Federico Rios Escobar