Migrants dreaming of US brave jungle odyssey

Juan José Rodríguez –
Some have died on the way, pregnant women lost their babies and one Haitian was shot in the arm, yet migrants still trek on foot through Panama’s perilous Darien forest in the hope of one day reaching the United States.
To reach Panama from Colombia, the migrants — mostly from Haiti and Cuba, but also Africa and Asia — brave the nightmare journey across the 575,000 hectares of jungle where snakes and jaguars lurk. And there are no roads.
Migrants, many of whom cannot swim, also have to cross rivers where they could be swept away by a powerful current.
“In the group I came with, at least five people stayed behind (in the jungle) and are dying,” said Pierre Louis Clivens, a Haitian who tackled the journey with his wife and seven-year-old son.
Yet the greatest danger stems from people and drug traffickers.
“They took all my money. They took three telephones, one of my husband’s and two of mine, and the thief shot me in the left arm,” said Marie-Claudia Toussaint, a Haitian with her arm wrapped in a scarf as she received a vaccine injection.
In a temporary humanitarian camp in the village of La Penita built for just 100 people, some 1,500 migrants, including 250 children, are crammed into dormitories. Adults sleep on the floor as little children, either naked or wearing nappies, run around them.
They survived the treacherous crossing from Colombia.
“This jungle is hell,” says Chambe Bezil, a Cameroonian who spent several days in the Darien as he attempts to one day reach the US, still some 5,500 kilometres away.
There are around 4,000 migrants — from India, Bangladesh, Angola, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti and Cuba — housed in various reception centres in the south of Panama, waiting to continue their journey northward.
Despite the jungle’s dangers, the number of migrants opting for this route is growing. During the first four months of 2019, at least 7,724 adults and 1,141 children crossed the Colombian border through the forest, according to official figures.
That amounts to three times the number of adults and twice as many children as the same period in 2018. Local authorities have had to set up temporary shelters in the south of Panama to accommodate the new arrivals as they wait for permits allowing them to continue their journey through Costa Rica. — AFP