Panama City, Aug 3 (EFE).- More than 40,000 children have crossed the notorious Darién Gap between Panama and Colombia in the first half of 2023, a figure that surpasses all of last year, Unicef’s regional office in Panama City warned on Thursday.
“It is alarming that just halfway through 2023, more children have crossed the dangerous Darién jungle between Colombia and Panama than during the whole of last year,” said Garry Conille, Unicef regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, in a statement.
“Half of these children on the move are under five years old and have specific needs.”
Conille stressed that most of these families “have lost everything during the crossing – their belongings, their identity documents, their money; they are left with nothing but the clothes they are wearing.”
The regional head of the United Nations agency said it is “vital to urgently adopt more child-friendly national migration policies and more robust humanitarian responses, including age-specific health and child protection services, across the region.”
Unicef, in this sense, “urges countries of origin, transit and destination across Latin America and the Caribbean to strengthen child protection systems, expanding access to gender – and age-responsive, rights-based services during the migration journey and in host communities.”
Conille demanded governments guarantee “legal, orderly and safe migration pathways and access to essential services such as education, protection and health for all migrant children.”
“The region’s evolving migration dynamics demand a comprehensive, cross-border and multidirectional response that ensures the best interests of the child. No matter their reasons for leaving home, or their legal status, children have the right to be protected at all times,” he concluded.
Last year, Panama experienced a crisis when 248,284 irregular migrants crossed through the Darién jungle, and of that unprecedented number, 16 percent (some 40,000) were minors, Unicef emergency specialist Diana Romero told EFE in February.
A record 248,901 irregular migrants have already crossed the Darién Gap so far in 2023, a number that already exceeds that of 2022, the Panamanian government reported Monday.
Panama has said in international forums and meetings that it needs help to manage the migration flow through the Darién into the country because the large daily numbers of migrants collapse the facilities where they are housed.
The Central American country receives travelers heading to North America at migration stations located near its southern border with Colombia and on the northern border with Costa Rica, where it offers them health care and food in a unique operation on the continent that involves a dozen international organizations. EFE