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Panama, Colombia deny abandoning migrants, appeal for more help

Migrants cross the Tuquesa river near Bajo Chiquito village, the first border control of the Darien Province in Panama, on September 22, 2023
Migrants cross the Tuquesa river near Bajo Chiquito village, the first border control of the Darien Province in Panama, on September 22, 2023 - Copyright AFP/File Luis ACOSTA
Migrants cross the Tuquesa river near Bajo Chiquito village, the first border control of the Darien Province in Panama, on September 22, 2023 - Copyright AFP/File Luis ACOSTA

The governments of Colombia and Panama on Friday denied accusations by Human Rights Watch that they had not done enough to protect migrants crossing the lawless jungle between their countries, and asked for international support in tackling the mounting crisis.

“The challenge of migration transcends our two countries… and we do not accept that it is said that we have abandoned the population in Darien, because that is not the case,” said Colombia’s Foreign Minister Gilberto Murillo, in Panama City. 

“Colombia and Panama have made a great effort.”

Last year, more than half a million people braved the Darien Gap, where they faced perilous river crossings, wild animals and violent criminal gangs that extort, kidnap and abuse them.

In a 110-page report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Panama and Colombia were not doing enough to protect those crossing, investigate pervasive sexual abuse, and look into those who have gone missing on the trek.

Panama’s Foreign Minister Janaina Tewaney said his country had taken note of the report “but would also like the efforts of both countries to be recognized.”

The report’s release comes after medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in February criticized a sharp rise in sexual violence against migrants, and accused Panama of not doing enough to protect them.

MSF said an average of 16 women were raped a day in February.

In response, Panama’s government suspended MSF’s humanitarian work in the Darien Gap and accused it of failing to share data on victims.

“These organizations that prepare these reports should also help us request greater support from the international community,” said Tewaney.

Murillo echoed these comments, saying “We cannot do it alone.”

In 2023, a record 520,000 people crossed the jungle, according to the Panamanian government.

The Panamanian government and international organizations have set up several reception centers for migrants, where they receive basic care.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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