More Haitian migrants face deadly jungle after crossing Colombia-Panama border

Haitian migrants are dying while crossing the Colombia-Panama border, according to Luis Andrés Fajardo, Deputy Ombudsman of Colombia.

ACANDI, Colombia – At the Colombian coastal town of Necoclí, there is a store selling only boat tickets to cross the Gulf of Urabá — which acts as the bridge between South and Central America.

At $40 per person, the store sells out quickly. A worker tapes a piece of paper to the door announcing when there will be a ticket sale again. It’s in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.

Other stores like it also can’t keep up with the demand. Nathalie Pierre, who was born in Haiti, managed to get tickets. She is traveling with a toddler and was waiting in line at the Necoclí port.

Nathalie Pierre's daughter stands in line at the port in Necoclí before crossing the Gulf of Uraba near the Colombia-Panama border. (Copyright 2020 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

“Anything can happen,” Pierre said in broken Spanish. “I am scared I will die, or maybe my daughter will die.”

Visa restrictions and Panama’s immigration limits aren’t dissuading migrants, mostly from Haiti, Cuba, and Venezuela, from risking it all to get to the U.S.-Mexico border. Officials report there has been a surge during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of the migrants who try to cross the Gulf of Urabá at night in unreliable vessels and without lifejackets are drowning, according to Luis Andrés Fajardo, the Deputy Ombudsman of Colombia.

Haitian mothers carry babies as they travel with groups of migrants to cross the Colombia-Panama border. (Copyright 2020 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

On the other side of the Gulf of Urabá, a small group of the village of Acandí residents greets migrants. Men with horse-drawn vehicles offer a short ride through a muddy path for $20 per person. Pierre was not the only mother in the crowd. There were migrant women carrying babies.

Tenacious migrants hike through Panama’s 60-mile Darién Gap, a dense and lawless mountainous jungle, and cross the Chucunaque River, the longest river in Panama.

From a clinic at the small town of Bajo Chiquito, Doctors Without Borders’ volunteers report treating rape victims and traumatized survivors haunted by the decomposing corpses and robbers.

Some of the migrants leave the town to begin their journey through Central America after suffering foot injuries, skin conditions, and infected wounds.

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Torres contributed to this report from Miami.

About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.