The reception center usually hosts between 300 and 900 people all planning to travel north to the US. Costa Rica is their next stop. More people arrive daily after crossing the Darién Gap–a treacherous stretch of jungle that separates Panama and Colombia. In 2021, 134,000 migrants passed through this dangerous border region, 62 percent of whom were from Haiti, 14 percent from Cuba, 2 percent from Venezuela, and about 3 percent were from various countries in Africa, including Senegal, Ghana, and Cameroon. This year has seen a shift in the nationality of migrants making the crossing: Of 19,000 people who crossed between January and April, 6,951 came from Venezuela, 2,195 from Haiti, 1,579 from Cuba, and 1,355 from Senegal. Many migrants cite the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for their departure, as well as discrimination that has prevented them from earning enough money to survive or finding appropriate accommodation.
To reach Panama from Colombia, migrants have two options. The first option is to pay $400 US to take a boat from Capurganá, Colombia, to Carreto, Panama, and then walk through the jungle for two or three days. Alternatively, if they cannot afford the cost, they can take the less expensive but more dangerous route, walking from Capurganá to the Panamanian indigenous community of Canáan Membrillo—a journey that can take between seven and 10 days and where hundreds of people have reported robberies, assaults, and sexual violence. MSF has treated 100 cases of sexual violence at the San Vicente centre from January to May 2022. In 2021, our teams carried out 328 consultations for sexual violence.