According to the European Union Center for Mixed Migration, 33% of families crossing the Darien jungle, most of them Venezuelan migrants, do so with minors who are exposed to disease, sexual and physical violence and death.
Andphotographer Federico Ríos Escobar met Luis (27 years old) and his daughter Melissa (4 years old) in one of the sections of the Darién Gap, on the second day of the transition to Central America and finally to the United States. Another young son of Luis, his wife, his mother-in-law and his aunt also followed the march, only this man caught Ríos’ attention when he sat down and leaned his head against a tree trunk, pale with exhaustion. In addition to the groceries and the suitcase he carried on his back, he also carried the girl in his arms, as he thought it was better to do so and not get buried in the mud.
The image for The New York Times, which illustrated a report by North American journalist Julie Turkewitz, revealed heartbreaking footage of the reality of walking migrants, as they are known in Colombian territory.
Federico Rios says boys and girls, as well as their families, are exposed to the inherent dangers of the jungle such as rain, sun, dehydration, flash floods of rivers, diarrhea, lack of food and a dry and clean place to sleep because many times they lose your tents. And perhaps the latter is the most emotionally destabilizing for minors like Melissa, who follow their parents without understanding what is happening to them.
“Because of their size and muscle development, children cannot walk as fast as adults. They remain more buried in the mud; you have to carry them and that wears out their parents and companions faster. The way they’re going can make them slower for their whole group,” Rios said of what he saw during the coverage.
According to the latest report by the European Union-funded Mixed Migration Center (MMC), which collected data between July 1 and September 4, 33% of families who embark on this crossing do so with children, and even some young ones are left behind current when they arrive in Panamanian territory, as assured by the government of that country, as at least 1% of those entering remain in the care of temporary homes or acquaintances until their parents make it to the US border.
The situation has caused the Venezuelan migrant population to monopolize international attention, and even more so when the US government announced this week that it would return Venezuelans crossing the southern border into Mexico as a migration control measure.
They are 77% of the immigrants who make their way to the northern part of the continent; Colombians follow with 13%, and the remaining percentage is covered by Panamanians, Peruvians, Haitians and Asians.
The Darién Gap is also a connecting point for Venezuelan migrants who come from Chile and Peru, via Bolivia. It cannot be ignored that before the pandemic the migration flow was towards these countries and that due to visa restrictions and the demand for economic resources, the movement north has increased significantly.
And it is in these scenarios that migrant and refugee children and women are exposed to the control of armed groups: robberies, physical and sexual violence and trafficking, no different than what continues to happen on the border between Colombia and Venezuela., and Ecuador and Peru, where this population is the victim of violence, sexual harassment and extortion by criminals, at illegal border crossings, as recorded by the UN refugee agency Acnur.
According to data reported by the Mixed Migration Center (MMC), 54% of perpetrators exposed by migrants are part of the local or host population.
Risks before arriving in Darien
The vulnerability of children who migrate with their families should not be analyzed only from a place like the Darién Gap.
In the context of international migration, as confirmed by Mairen Tobon, professor at the Universidad Industrial de Santander and researcher at the Center for Migration Studies at the Universidad de los Andes, “the migration situation of fathers, mothers and caregivers; food insecurity; institutional barriers to access rights; territorial dynamics where generalized violence exacerbates risks for children and adolescents’.
In this sense, it is necessary that “the authorities guarantee access to health services, social protection and education at all levels, regardless of their immigration status or that of their fathers, mothers and persons who care for them”, says Tobon. Similarly, the institutional capacity to understand the migration context needs to be strengthened, the researcher adds.
Retrieved from www.nytimes.com / THE NEW DAY. Louis and Melissa, father and daughter, while crossing the Darien Gap. Photo by Federico Rios for The New York Times.
2 million 477 thousand Venezuelan migrants are in Colombia out of 6.8 million who have left the country, according to Acnur.
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XIOMARA K. MONTAÑEZ MONSALVE