Crossing the Darién jungle: the perilous journey of migrants in Central America 

The Darién jungle represents one of the most dangerous crossings on a highly treacherous migration route. Situated in the dense jungle between the border of Colombia and Panamá, the Darién Gap is an extremely remote, roadless, and unprotected stretch of land which exists as the only overland path to connect South to Central America. While media reports of the Darién’s humanitarian crisis describe a “no-man’s-land” of hellish conditions, impenetrable jungle and deadly wildlife, an estimated 506,000 migrants crossed it on foot in 2023. A large percentage of these migrants are women, who often travel with young children and face a myriad of gender challenges. A great part of the women arriving at the services of the Good Shepherd in Costa Rica have suffered or witnessed sexual violence during the crossing of the Darién jungle.  

In June 2024 Martine, Program Officer of GSIF Latin America, visited Costa Rica with our friends and supporters Halena and Gordon. They had the opportunity to speak with some migrants in the Good Shepherd Sisters’ shelter Hogar Misericordia” in San Jose, capital of Costa Rica. A family, made up of a husband, wife and their three young daughters, shared their experiences along the migration route, especially in the Darién Jungle: ´We come from Venezuela. People know of our vulnerable situation, and they robbed us several times. The worst experience was in the Darién jungle: they told us we had the option to give them all our dollars or we had to pay with our daughter (to be abused). So now we have no money. The Good Shepherd sisters found us sleeping in the streets and took us to their shelter. My daughters are not well, because of the unhygienic conditions in the jungle. One of my daughter’s feet is swollen, another suffers from severe diarrhea, and the other from an untreated infection. For us, the shelter is a safe space, where we can rest and recover. We don’t have to think about meals and where to sleep. During the day we can go out and sell sweets and collect some money to resume our journey to the north. 

The Good Shepherd shelters in Mexico and Costa Rica work to receive and provide protection and care to those who are forced to leave their country, welcoming migrants, refugees and displaced persons and meeting their basic needs.  The services are extensive and include trauma healing, legal guidance, psychosocial support, provision of essential supplies and health care, and employment skills. The program supported by GSIF, was created in response to the increasing number of migrants traveling along the USA-Mexico border in recent years. Migrants are forced to leave everything behind in the hope of a better life, in search of a safer environment or job opportunities, but while on the move, they are often exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse or gender-based violence. Families with women and children, in particular, are in situation of extreme vulnerability.  

Since migrants are among the most fragile groups, it is crucial to ensure they find a safe space where they can heal from their wounds and are received with dignity and compassion. This is why GSIF remains committed to upholding and promoting the basic rights of vulnerable migrants and displaced persons in Costa Rica and Mexico, supporting them on pathways to safe and sustainable futures. 

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