After hitting a record high in 2021, the number of people arriving in Panama after crossing the treacherous Darién Gap route from Colombia has dropped significantly. In December, the Bajo Chiquito health center—where a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team had been providing medical care to those who survived the trek—had no patients.
Dr. Helmer Charris—who has worked with MSF in various capacities over the last 11 years in Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Mexico, Yemen, and South Sudan—was in Panama from December 2021 until March 2022. Here, he describes why the Darien Gap is more perilous than ever, despite the decrease in the number of arrivals and changes in the routes migrants are taking.
When I arrived in Panama, the migratory route was changing. Instead of arriving at the town of Bajo Chiquito, it reached further north to Canán Membrillo. This new route seemed to be safer—there were no reports of violent incidents and [it was] shorter by three days. But that started to change again in February.