Panama tells Doctors Without Borders to stop providing treatment to Darién Gap migrants

Mar 10, 2024 | 0 comments

By Luke Taylor

Panama has ordered Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to stop treating people who have crossed the Darién Gap, one of the world’s most dangerous and fastest-growing border crossings.

MSF is one of the largest medical NGOs operating on the dangerous jungle frontier which connects Colombia to Panama and the loss of their services will probably leave a void in potentially lifesaving healthcare services for vulnerable migrants.

People queue to be transported from Canaan Membrillo village to the Migrants Reception Station in Meteti, Darien Province, Panama, in October.

“We are extremely concerned about the consequences that the suspension of our activities has on people on the move through the Darién Gap,” MSF said in a press release.

The Darien Gap is a 60-mile stretch of swampy rainforest and the only land route north for migrants heading to the USA from South America.

More than half a million people – including 113,000 children – risked their lives crossing the rainforest on foot last year, up from a total of 24,000 in 2019.

Emergency medical treatment is desperately needed in the region due to the serious health risks of walking through one of the most perilous and lawless regions on earth. At least 48 people died while attempting the arduous, week-long trek last year, the majority drowning in turbulent rivers.

NGOs like MSF most commonly treat migrants for aggressive fungal infections, acute malnutrition and diarrhea, but the organsation is increasingly focussing on the physical and mental treatment of survivors of sexual violence following a surge in cases in recent months.

Experts say the Panamanian authorities have done little to tackle the gangs of armed bandits who currently operate with impunity on the northern side of the border, targeting migrants for rape or robbery.

MSF is one of the largest civil society groups responding to the growing humanitarian crisis in the Darién and last year treated nearly 60,000.

Panama’s orders means it must suspend its operations just ahead of an expected surge in migrants crossing to Panama after a string of human trafficking arrests in Colombia created a bottleneck on the migration route last week.

“We are extremely concerned about the consequences that the suspension of our activities has on people on the move through the Darién Gap,” the medical charity said.Civil society groups working in the Darién say they cannot keep up with the record numbers of people making the crossing.

The demands on medical staff will be greater now one of the largest non-governmental groups groups in the region has suspended its services.

“Panama’s decision to bar MSF from operating jeopardises the lives and integrity of the most vulnerable populations – migrants, refugees, women and children – after surviving what has likely been the greatest challenge in their lives: crossing the Darién Gap,” said Bram Ebus at the International Crisis Group.

MSF says the order to stop its work in the region comes after the Panamanian ministry of health did not renew an agreement which the medical organisation said it has “tried, in vain, to renew since October 2023”.
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Credit: The Guardian

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