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Report: Colombia, Panama are failing to address violence against Darien Gap migrants

A new report from the  global advocacy group Human Rights Watch alleges countries are failing to address crime and threats against migrants crossing through the Darien Gap.

The rugged, roadless land bridge connects South and Central America. More than half a million people migrants and asylum seekers traveled through there in 2023  — many of whom were en route to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Researchers  found many faced extortion, sexual violence and other threats. Juan Pappier with Human Rights Watch says the report looks at how Colombia and Panama, which flank the gap, have responded.

"To prevent sexual violence to protect unaccompanied children, and to prosecute the criminal groups that are abusing women and profiting from the vulnerable migrants crossing this jungle," he said. "While Columbia has done a significant effort to give papers to the Venezuelans living in Columbia, there’s limited efforts to protect those crossing Darian Gap. And in Panama, the efforts are focused on making sure that they can quickly cross their country and reach to Costa Rica." 

Pappier says his group’s research found Panama provided little support for migrants there — even those looking to open asylum cases and stay.

He says the Darien Gap has seen an unprecedented rise in migrants over the last few years, but efforts to deal with crimes against them have not caught up. Earlier this year, another Human Rights Watch report found restrictive policies in the United States and other countries have led to  a sharp rise in activity in the Darien Gap. Pappier says roughly 100,000 people have already crossed the gap this year, according to Panamanian statistics, a pace that's on track to exceed the total crossings in 2023.

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Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.