Bajo Chiquito, Panama, Sept 22 (EFE).- Horrible, just horrible, repeats many migrants after crossing the dangerous Darién jungle, the natural border between Panama and Colombia. Many embark on the nightmarish journey, guided by videos that flood social media and the stories of acquaintances.
Misinformation and deception accompany the migration crisis, with thousands of travelers crossing Central America to reach the United States.
“Strength, strength!” shouts a man as he leads a group of migrants through the current of a river. They cross in a human chain. Two girls cry and scream as they are dragged by the current while someone holds their wrists and pulls them to shore.
It’s not their first crossing, as the rivers mark the way to avoid getting lost in the jungle, and the meandering water makes wading inevitable.
“There is a woman who has been there for ten days,” says a young man who has just crossed the river in the Come Gallina area at the jungle exit.
They stay because of exhaustion, dehydration, or injuries. Many are also attacked by wild animals or criminals who rob and assault them.
Venezuelan Delia Gómez, 51, is now safe in what migrants call “the UN,” the Lajas Blancas migrant reception center set up by the Panamanian authorities to provide them shelter, medical care, and food.
She sits under a tent with a bandaged knee, sweating and looking lost.
“It’s terrible. I don’t recommend it to anyone. I was left alone. My companions left me without food, without anything. I don’t remember how long I was in the jungle. I lost track of time. I saw many dead people”. Delia told EFE.
The first town they reach in Panama is Bajo Chiquito, on the banks of the Tuquesa River. It is an indigenous settlement of a few dozen wooden houses now overflowing with migrants who queue for hours to register with the authorities.
The small registry continues to break records: according to official data, more than 385,000 people crossed this jungle in 2023, a significant increase from 248,000 in all of 2022.
Estimates are that the number will reach 500,000 in 2023.
In August alone, there were almost 82,000 arrivals, an unusual figure compared to the 31,000 in the same month last year, an average of nearly 3,000 people a day, 20% of whom are children.
Venezuelan Noelia Rojas holds her daughter in arms at a Bajo Chiquito campground.
The girl turns and smiles at the camera. Then, her mother begins to recount their journey through the jungle.
“Terrible,” she says, and as her mother recalls the dead, the little girl’s expression turns to sadness.
“If I had known that this path was like this, I would not have risked my daughter,” she admits to EFE.
“I came with confidence (…) because I had no idea it would be like this,” she adds.
It was reported “on social media, but what they show is not even a quarter of what you experience in real life.”