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Press briefing notes Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Darien Gap migrants

05 September 2023

Migrants arriving by boat through the Darien Gap, Panama 09 May 2023 - OHCHR

Delivered by

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Marta Hurtado



We are worried about the risks and vulnerabilities faced by an unprecedented number of migrants and refugees who are crossing the Darien Gap – the dense tropical jungle that separates Colombia and Panama – on their journey towards North America. So far this year, more than 330,000 people have crossed the Darien Gap – the highest annual figure recorded to date. One in five were children. By comparison, some 248,000 people are estimated to have passed through this region during the whole of 2022.

Migrants and refugees are exposed to multiple human rights violations and abuses during their journey, including sexual violence, which is a particular risk for children, women, LGBTI people and people with disabilities. There are also murders, disappearances, trafficking, robbery, and intimidation by organised crime groups. 

The limited humanitarian attention both in Panama and Costa Rica worsens the precarious living conditions there and increases people’s vulnerabilities.

The risks are all the greater given the dangers of crossing this jungle of some 575,000 hectares. In the dry season, people walk on average for four to seven days to cross the Darien Gap. During the nine month-long rainy season, this can take up to 10 days.

The Government of Panama has, with the support of the international community, built two migration reception centres in Darien province and one at the border with Costa Rica to provide shelter, food, health care and water and sanitation. However, the large number of people on the move has stretched the capacity of the Panamanian authorities on the ground to continue providing protection and to attend to the humanitarian needs of refugees and migrants.

We understand the challenges and recognise the efforts of Costa Rica and Panama to meet the humanitarian needs of people in the context of large mixed movements at borders. We call on all States to promote human rights-based solutions to migration governance challenges and ensure border governance in line with international law and standards. We also recall the need to avoid discriminatory, anti-migrant narratives.

Addressing migration challenges demands collective efforts and solutions at the regional and international levels, which is why we are also calling on the international community to strengthen its support to the States in the Americas to address these protection gaps.

We further encourage the States of the region to address structural factors that are forcing people to leave their homes and embark on perilous journeys in search of safety and a more dignified life for them and their families.

For more information and media requests, please contact:

In Geneva
Ravina Shamdasani - + 41 22 917 9169 / [email protected] or
Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / [email protected] or
Liz Throssell + 41 22 917 9296 / [email protected]

In Nairobi
Seif Magango - +254 788 343 897 / [email protected]

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