As thousands of illegal migrants wait along the southern border of Texas to be processed into the United States, hundreds more are risking their lives crossing through the Darien Gap to eventually seek asylum in the US.
A group of roughly 500 migrants are trekking through the jungle for six days in order to cross from Columbia to Panama, according to the Associated Press. Along their journey, they will face bandits, dangerous animals and hazardous rivers.
Photos of the migrants preparing to enter the jungle show dozens carrying food, water, children, blankets and other provisions through waist high rivers and valleys.
For the journey, two migrants are carrying 20 liters of water, which cost them $20.
The migrants crossing through the Darien Gap are mostly Haitian who have been living in South America. Visa requirements and the coronavirus pandemic have made it extremely difficult for them to fly directly to the US, Mexico or Panama, leaving many to rely on trekking through the jungle.
“The jungle is very tough, we just walk without a precise idea of where we’re headed,” Davidson Lafleur, a 24-year-old Haitian, told the Associated Press.
Lafleur is just one of hundreds of migrants looking to travel to the US with his family after living in South America the past three years. As he is traveling with his wife and 11-month old daughter, Lafleur reportedly paid someone $120 to carry his bags to the Panama border.
While trekking through the jungle, the migrants are faced with the decision to leave behind belongings to carry less weight throughout the strenuous journey. Some groups have had to turn back after migrants suffering from different ailments faint or run out of their medication.
Migrants have reported getting foot funguses, gastrointestinal problems and respiratory infections throughout the journey. Women have allegedly given birth while on the trek and children have reportedly died.
Other humans pose an extremely dangerous threat to the migrants. Earlier this year, nearly 100 women were sexually assaulted by bandits while trekking through the jungle. The trails, which are often used to traffic drugs, are also controlled by armed groups.
“Fear is always with us,” Lafleur said. “But we have no choice but to keep on going.”
Local guides helping migrants through the jungle face additional dangers, as some who spoke with the Associated Press decline to give their names to avoid being prosecuted for human trafficking.
Immigration officials in Panama have reported record numbers of migrants crossing the Darien Gap, saying at least 70,000 people have made the trek in 2021. To curb the growing numbers, Colombia and Panama agreed to limit the number of people crossing through the jungle each day. The limit however has created a bottleneck for immigrants looking to get to the jungle from Colombia in the first place.
If the hundreds of traveling migrants can make it to the US, they face the problem of processing with the US border patrol.
As of Thursday, over 10,000 migrants were waiting underneath the Del Rio International Bridge to be processed into the United States, while 2,000 to 3,000 are in detention “at any given moment,” according to Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano