With more than 124,000 displaced people having crossed the Darien Gap—a jungle area at the border between Colombia and Panama—since January 2021, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) calls for international cooperation to respond to critical needs identified during a recent scoping mission.

Meghan Lopez, Regional Vice President for Latin America at the IRC, said:

“The current situation at the Darien Gap is a symptom of humanitarian crises in Latin America— and even other continents—that are reaching scales never seen before. The region has had a historical role in migration routes from all over the world, which now are used as escape valves in the face of new and growing crises. It is critical to respond to such crises, providing people with options to find safety at home as well as enroute or destination as needed. To achieve this, it is necessary to develop a comprehensive and regional response that incorporates a humanitarian approach—supported by international funding, not just local funding—to address the root drivers of migration in the countries of origin and deliver protection services along the way.”

The IRC’s research was based on interviews with local stakeholders, including community leaders, and incorporating data from institutions like Panama’s National Migration Service. As part of the data collected, the IRC identified the main nationalities of people who had crossed between January and November 2021:

Although Panama is taking measures, and certain organizations are currently delivering aid, the scale of the crisis has put pressure on the capacity to respond. Among different needs, the IRC identified three that are critical:

More about the crisis at the Darien Gap

Migration pathways through Latin America have existed for decades if not centuries, but have recently become increasingly traveled, politicized and dangerous. One of the most daunting pathways is the Darien Gap—located at the border between Panama and Colombia—which used to be crossed by 10,000 to 20,000 people every year. In 2021, however, there has been an exponential increase, with more than 124,000 people having crossed the jungle by November. 

Multiple factors and deteriorating living conditions—including the triple threat of COVID-19, conflict and climate change—have driven the increase in the number of people forced to displace. Among the population found at the Darien Gap, the IRC identified as the main reasons:

Further details of the IRC’s research can be shared upon request by reaching out to [email protected]