Panama: the ‘Road of Death’

The Darien Gap is known simply as “hell” to those who survive it. How else to describe this lawless and roadless expanse of dense jungle swamp marking the border between Colombia and Panama?

Navigating this treacherous crossing requires traversing steep mountain passes patrolled by drug traffickers and armed bandits looking to rape and rob, walking 12-hours a day in stifling humidity and wading through endless swollen rivers which can rise several metres in an instant, sweeping the unsuspecting into their murky depths.

Then there are the savage insects which bite every inch of bare skin and a multitude of venomous snakes. The jungle paths are lined with the rotting corpses and bones of those fallen by the wayside.

Despite the horrors of the Darien Gap, over recent years it has become one of the most prominent routes for migrants travelling to North America. As well as a host of South American and Caribbean countries, people travel here from all over the world to make the lethal jungle crossing, including Africa, China, South East Asia and the Middle East.

In 2021, according to the Panamanian government’s own figures, 133,000 reportedly made the journey – a figure that is set to be surpassed this year. According to Unicef, in the first five months of this year, the number of children in the jungle was double what it was over the same period in 2021, meaning minors comprised roughly one in five of those attempting to cross. Many of these children are walking with families, but others end up in the jungle alone.

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