Migrants, seeking a better life in the U.S., are still drawn to the Darién Gap. However, Ecuadorians arriving at the U.S. border through the Darién and other routes are experiencing a surge in record detentions.
As 2023 draws to a close, Panama grapples with an unprecedented migration crisis, recording over half a million migrants passing through the perilous Darién jungle, connecting South America to Panama. Among them are 56,328 Ecuadorians, seeking refuge in the United States and Canada due to escalating violence and economic instability in their home country.
The Darién passage has become a symbol of the challenges faced by migrants, as 513,782 individuals navigated its dangers by December 20th, more than doubling the previous year’s record. Venezuelans constitute the majority with 326,589, followed by Ecuadorians at 56,328 and Haitians at 45,628.
UNICEF’s Johana Tejada López notes the alarming increase in minors separated from their parents during the journey and adolescents traveling alone. The surge in migration includes a staggering 100,000 minors, with 50% under the age of five, highlighting the immense risks families are willing to take.
The crisis necessitates humanitarian organizations to bolster their efforts in the Darién region, where the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) has implemented strategies to address the escalating numbers.
Upon reaching Bajo Chiquito, the first town after the jungle, migrants undergo registration before continuing their journey. The humanitarian hub, dubbed “the UN,” offers aid, medical assistance, and food support, with the Panamanian government investing approximately $70 million in recent years. Migrants then board buses, at their own expense, to reach Costa Rica, despite mounting restrictions from transit and destination countries.
While various nations announce stringent measures, such as deportations and increased barriers to asylum, the migratory flow remains relentless.
Segundo Muela, a 35-year-old Ecuadorian, shared his motivation for embarking on this perilous journey with his wife and two young children. Economic hardships and rising violence in Ecuador prompted their decision, citing extortion and insecurity as prevalent issues. Despite tightened migration restrictions, the lure of better living conditions propels many, like Muela, to brave the dangers of the Darién.
Stephanie Michael Refinjozolano, a 22-year-old Venezuelan, expresses the common aspiration for a better life as she heads to the U.S. with her family.
Ecuadorians increasingly detained at border
Simultaneously, Ecuador faces its own crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, with 2023 witnessing the highest number of Ecuadorians detained. Between January and November, 107,848 Ecuadorian migrants were detained, doubling the 2022 figure of 58,297 and surpassing the 2021 record of 90,275. Despite stricter measures implemented by the U.S., such as the removal of Title 42 and the introduction of Title 8, arrests surged in the second half of 2023, exceeding 15,000 since July.
The Mexican government’s imposition of visas on Ecuadorians in September 2021 briefly curbed migration, but the numbers rose again after the removal of Title 42 in May 2023. The United States’ intent to curb migration through Title 8 has yet to show its desired effect, as Ecuadorians continue to face challenges on their journey north.
As the year concludes, the Darién crisis underscores the urgency for coordinated international efforts to address the root causes of migration and provide sustainable solutions for those seeking refuge. The resilience of migrants in the face of adversity serves as a stark reminder of the human cost of the ongoing global migration challenges.