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Filling the Gap: Humanitarian Support and Alternative Pathways for Migrants on Colombia’s Edge

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Migrants are increasingly making a perilous journey north through the Darien Gap, a dangerous 100 km stretch of dense jungle between Colombia and Panama. The journey can be deadly. But visa restrictions, increased border security, economic uncertainty, difficulty accessing opportunities in host countries, and a lack of alternative legal pathways have all led to an uptick in displaced people making their way through the Darien in search of safety. In the first three months of 2022, 13,425 people crossed through the Gap—at a rate of more than double when compared with the 5,622 people who crossed in the same period of 2021. This report will especially focus on Venezuelans, given their notable increase in crossing the Gap this year, the scale of Venezuelan displacement in the region, their relative poverty compared to other migrants, and their qualification for international protection under the Cartagena Declaration.

To better understand why migrants were making this crossing, in April 2022, Refugees International visited Necoclí and Capurganá, Colombia—two critical junctions in the journey to cross the Gap—to observe the conditions there. In Necoclí, migrants lack access to shelter, information, healthcare, and water. There is no special support for women and children. In Capurganá, Refugees International witnessed a very well-organized smuggling operation that whisks migrants away from public spaces and pushes them underground, where it is difficult for authorities or humanitarian organizations to access them.

Local and Colombian authorities, with help from the United States and international organizations, must address the immediate humanitarian needs of migrants in Necoclí and Capurganá. But policies are also needed to reroute people away from the Gap altogether, including the establishment of legal pathways that would allow migrants to fly directly to countries where they can seek regularization. Recent commitments stemming from the Summit of the Americas begin to address humanitarian needs, but countries in the Americas must do more to share the responsibility to protect and to uphold the dignity of people on the move through the region.