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Record numbers of migrants are crossing the dangerous Darién Gap to get to the U.S.

Migrants crossing the Darién Gap encounter treacherous conditions including deep mud, snakes and swamps.
Migrants crossing the Darién Gap encounter treacherous conditions including deep mud, snakes and swamps.

The Darién Gap is a roadless stretch of treacherous jungle that connects Panama and Colombia. It is increasingly crowded with migrants who are risking their lives to make it to the United States.

One of the migrants who recently made the seven-day trek is Salimata Bakayoko. She carried her infant child for much of the trip.

“There was so much rain and so much mud that we couldn’t walk,” she told 1A.

“We left our country with a lot of things and we lost them during this time in the forest. It was so difficult…I thought that I was going to die, I wanted to die. I thought that I was going to go crazy in the forest.”

Anastasia Moloney reported on the Darién Gap for Context News:

A record 133,000 people crossed the Darién Gap last year, including 29,000 children, according to Panamanian authorities.

And in the first four months of 2022, the number of migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Darién almost doubled when compared to the same period last year.

In August alone, a record 32,000 migrants traversed the Darién, up 40-fold from the same month last year, according to Human Rights Watch.

The New York Times also sent reporter Julie Turkewitz to learn more.

The Darién, which forms part of the Isthmus of Panama, is a narrow swath of land dividing the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Parts are so inaccessible that when engineers built the Pan-American Highway in the 1930s, linking Alaska to Argentina, only one section was left unfinished.

That piece — 66 roadless miles of turbulent rivers, rugged mountains and venomous snakes — became known as the Darién Gap. Today, the journey through the gap is made more perilous by a criminal group and human traffickers who control the region, often extorting and sometimes sexually assaulting migrants.

What is it like to cross the Darién Gap? And why are so many migrants making the perilous journey?

Copyright 2022 WAMU 88.5

Avery Kleinman