“The situation underscores the urgent need for the immediate collective involvement of governments from origin, transit and destination countries to provide humanitarian assistance, especially to vulnerable groups like women and children,” said Michele Klein Solomon, IOM Regional Director for Central America, North America and the Caribbean.
IOM cited statistics that reveal the magnitude of the problem, noting that Panama’s National Migration Service reported a record number of migrants crossing the perilous Darién jungle from Colombia this year.
Over 390,000 people made the treacherous journey as of 23 September, with 82,000 crossing in August alone – the highest monthly figure on record. Most come from Venezuela, Ecuador and Haiti.
Beyond the rise in numbers, IOM said the most significant trend has been the shift by Cuban migrants and those coming from African countries who are increasingly flying to Central America, thus sidestepping the Darién route altogether.
Meanwhile, only 4,100 migrants from Africa crossed the Darién between January and July of this year, a 65 per cent decrease from the same period in 2022.
Conversely, Honduras saw a staggering 553 per cent increase in arrivals from Africa, 19,412 people, through its southern border. Similarly, only 524 Cubans were reported in the Darién during this period, compared to the 17,157 arriving by land in Honduras.
Danger all around
People transiting Central America and Mexico face numerous challenges, IOM said, highlighting the dangers in the Darién jungle.
Migrants have been injured, abandoned on muddy slopes, or swept away by sudden river floodings. They are also vulnerable to robbery, violence and sexual abuse.
In countries along the route, migrant families find themselves hungry, sleeping in the streets and forced to beg. Many suffer health issues like diarrhoea and dehydration.
IOM monitors migration movements and supplies life-saving information and assistance throughout Colombia, Central America and Mexico, and provides hygiene items, food, protection services and healthcare.
Staff also assist with voluntary return operations, infrastructure and shelter support, and carry out communication campaigns to counter false information and alert migrants about the dangers they might face.
Collaboration and support
IOM warned that despite the efforts of transit nations, UN agencies and humanitarian organizations, the capacity to offer life-saving aid is stretched thin.
The agency explained that migration drivers are complex, ranging from economic and social factors to environmental and political challenges.
Many have been intensified by the fallouts from the COVID-19 pandemic, recent extreme weather events, and political unrest in countries of origin.
“The challenges of migration are too vast for any nation in the Americas to tackle alone,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM’s Regional Director for South America.
“As mandated on the Global Compact on Migration, IOM advocates for a comprehensive, collaborative regional strategy and reaffirms its unwavering support for initiatives that uphold international humanitarian duties, sustainable development objectives, and the fundamental human rights of those on the move.”