*Data from MSF International Activity Report 2021
Migrants crossing into Panama via the Darién Gap often face extreme violence and other hardships along the way.
Our work in Panama
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides medical aid to thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who arrive in Panama after a treacherous journey through the Darién Gap, a dense jungle that has become one of the world's most dangerous migration routes.
What's happening in Panama
Panama registered a record number of migrants in 2021—around 134,000, compared to 8,600 in 2020. Due to increasing anti-immigration policies in the region and an economic crisis fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are traveling north across the continent toward Mexico and the United States in search of safety and better opportunities. Many of the migrants travel with their families, including young children and pregnant women.
In 2021, the vast majority of migrants on this route were Haitians, who had previously settled in countries such as Brazil and Chile. Cubans and Venezuelans were the other two most numerous groups. In 2022, we started to see a shift in the mix of nationalities here: 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.
The crossing through the Darién Gap to Bajo Chiquito, the first village on the Panama side, can take more than five days and is extremely challenging. The terrain is treacherous, with steep cliffs to climb and sudden river floods. People frequently lose their way, run out of food and water, or are robbed or assaulted by criminal gangs operating in the area.
How we're helping in Panama
In April 2021, MSF started providing services for migrants arriving in Bajo Chiquito and at two migrant reception centers in the area, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. Our teams provide medical care and mental health support to the many victims of violence, including sexual violence, and to people whose relatives have died while making the journey through the jungle.
Many of the migrants crossing the Darién are families with young children, and almost half of the patients our teams assisted in 2021 were minors under 14 years old. Our logisticians have carried out infrastructure improvements to health facilities and offered advice on water and sanitation.
We are highlighting the need for safe migration routes, and calling on regional governments to protect migrant families from violence.
How we're helping
Individual mental health consultations
People treated for sexual violence
More news and stories
How you can help
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