Nearly 50,000 migrants have arrived in Panama through the Darién jungle so far in 2022

58% of the migrants are Venezuelan, although some 50 nationalities have been registered; as of May, an average of 500 people enter per day

UNICEF/William Urdaneta  -   A Sierra Leonean woman and her baby arrive at a shelter in La Peñita, Darién, Panama

Panama has been experiencing the largest social protests in decades for three weeks due to rising prices of food, fuel, medicines and other vital supplies. Protesters are blocking roads and avenues, disrupting transportation, rubbish collection and the food supply chain, among many other basic activities.

Meanwhile, the flow of migrants through the Darien jungle is increasing and has reached an average of 500 people a day since May, according to a situation report released Thursday by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Data from Panama's National Migration Service indicate that so far in 2022, 48,430 people have entered the country through the dangerous migration route of the Darien Jungle. Of these, 7,283, or 15%, are children and adolescents.

Disaggregated figures show that 58% of the migrants are Venezuelan, 7.9% are Haitian and 5.2% are Cuban, although there are people from 50 countries.

OIM/Gema Cortés - Migrants queuing in Lajas Blancas, Panama, after crossing the Darien Gap
Abuses during the journey

UNICEF highlighted the difficulties migrants face in crossing the jungle, where physical and sexual violence and assault, among other abuses, are common.

By the end of the year, at least 160,000 people are projected to pass through the Darién route, including some 32,000 children and adolescents, and some 500 pregnant women.

"Despite the State's territorial control actions, it is expected that assaults and sexual violence will continue to occur along the jungle route," warns the UNICEF report.

The agency reported that some 6,500 migrants have been affected by the national strike and are stranded in migrant reception stations, whose capacity has been severely exceeded.

Given the uncertainty about the reopening of the roads and the saturation of these stations, some individuals and families of migrants have decided to continue on foot their route to Panama City, abandoning the controlled flow maintained by the State.

For their part, the local population has shown solidarity with them, offering them drinks and some food.

UNICEF / William Urdaneta - Romeu Mauricio and his three-year-old son Jetfro cross the Darien, which divides Colombia and Panama
Humanitarian corridor

On 16 July, with more than 4,600 migrants stranded, the authorities responsible for managing the migration flow opted to negotiate with the leaders of the various blockade points to establish a humanitarian corridor and prevent the buses from being attacked.

The negotiation has allowed more than 4,268 migrants to move safely towards the border with Costa Rica. Their movement took an average of 36 to 48 hours, when the regular time for such a journey is twelve hours.

UNICEF staff in Darién and its partners report shortages of food, gas, petrol, cash, as well as interruptions in power, telephone and water services for the population, in addition to the indefinite closure of schools and roads.

For the migrant population in reception stations and host communities, the strike has affected water purification plants due to power cuts and lack of fuel, and has depleted the supply of hygiene kits. It has also imposed restrictions on access to latrines and there is no power to contact migrants' families, who are also unable to receive money orders to pay their passage through the humanitarian corridor.

OIM/Gema Cortés - Senegalese migrant after crossing the Darien jungle in Panama
Tri-national coordination

In order to alleviate the precariousness faced by people in transit, UNICEF has called for the establishment of operational coordination mechanisms between Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica to inform about the situation of the stoppage and the effects on the migratory flow, so that people who plan to transit through the Darién are aware of the limitations and so that the Central American countries are prepared for a tripled flow once the stoppage is lifted.

Given the gravity of the situation, UNICEF emphasized that health, justice and child protection services, among others, are expected to collapse due to the lack of access of public employees to their workplaces and basic supplies.

"The migrant population will continue to enter the jungle despite reports of the national strike in Panama and mobility restrictions. Central American countries may have waves of migrants that would overwhelm local services during their transit once there are negotiations in Panama and the migratory flow is reactivated," the UN agency noted.