It takes between four and 10 days of walking to migrate north, crossing through the Darién jungle, South America's only land route heading north. People face extreme violence, with reports of people being robbed, beaten, raped, or even killed.
MSF teams are working in the migrant reception centre in San Vincente, in eastern Panama, providing medical and mental healthcare to people on the move.
Our activities in 2021 in Panama
Data and information from the International Activity Report 2021.
Panama registered a record number of migrants in 2021 – around 134,000, compared to 8,600 in 2020. The vast majority were Haitians, who had previously settled in countries such as Brazil and Chile, but due to the anti-immigration policies there, and the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, were now fleeing north towards Mexico and the United States in search of safety and better opportunities. Cubans and Venezuelans were the other two most numerous groups. Many of the migrants were travelling with their families, including young children and pregnant women.
The crossing through the Gap to Bajo Chiquito, the first community on the Panama side, can take more than five days and is extremely challenging. The terrain is treacherous, with steep cliffs to climb and sudden river floods, and people frequently get lost, run out of food and water, or are attacked or robbed by the criminal gangs operating in the area.
In April, MSF began to run services for migrants arriving in Bajo Chiquito, and at two migrant reception centres in the area, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. As well as medical care, our teams provided mental health support to the many victims of violence and sexual violence and people who had lost family members in the jungle.
Many of the migrants crossing the Darién were families with young children, and almost half of the patients our teams assisted were minors under 14 years old. Our logisticians also carried out infrastructure improvements to health facilities and offered advice on water and sanitation.
Throughout the year, we highlighted the need for safe migration routes, and called on regional governments to provide protection from violence for migrant families.