Bogota, Nov 16 (EFE).- Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has treated 397 cases of sexual violence against migrants crossing the Darien Gap, the dense and mountainous jungle that separates Colombia and Panama, and warned of “mass events of sexual violence” on the Panamanian side, the organization reported Thursday.
“How does one survive five rapes?” a Venezuelan migrant asked workers from the medical-humanitarian organization, also known as Doctors Without Borders, which is stationed on the Panamanian side of the border.
“We cross the jungle in search of a better future, not to end our lives. Your life is not ended by a snake, your life is ended by the men inside who rape and kill,” she said.
So far this year, an all-time high of nearly 460,000 people have crossed the dangerous jungle on their way to North America. The risks of crossing the roadless stretch of rainforest include not only the climatic and environmental conditions of a jungle – river floods, torrential rains, insect and animal bites – but also the presence of armed groups and criminal gangs.
In the Venezuelan woman’s case, the entire group she was traveling with was kidnapped, MSF denounced in a press release on Thursday.
Those who did not bring money were mistreated; she was beaten on her legs.
“I saw that many were raped. I saw them leave naked and beaten. One, two or three people grab you and rape you, and then the next one comes and rapes you again, and when you scream, they beat you,” the woman said.
“Sexual violence in the Darien is becoming increasingly cruel and dehumanizing,” denounced MSF, which has received 397 migrant survivors of sexual violence in the Darien jungle.
The cases increased in October, when they assisted 59 victims in a single week and 107 throughout the month, including 3 minors.
Nevertheless, MSF warns of underreporting, since not all victims of sexual aggression report it for fear of stigmatization or “for fear of being re-victimized in administrative processes that delay their journey to the north,” explained the medical coordinator of MSF’s Colombia-Panama mission, Carmenza Gálvez.
The testimonies recorded by the organization reveal a systematic action by armed groups who kidnap entire groups of migrants, steal their money and then subject them to sexual violence ranging from groping to rape.
“Although men and people with different identities are also subjected to this form of violence, 95% of the survivors treated are women. It is not only adults, MSF has registered 6% of cases against minors. For example, in the last week of October, migrants aged 11, 12 and 16 were reported to have been raped,” the organization said in the statement.
“This must stop. Migrants should not suffer any kind of violation of their rights along the route,” said the MSF medical coordinator, who called on governments “to have an effective presence in the area so that no one has to suffer this kind of violence” and to guarantee care for the victims. EFE