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Season 2, Ep. 2: How policies push people to increasingly dangerous migration routes – A look at the Darién Gap

Show notes

Below, you will find links to all of the research referenced by our guests, as well as other resources you may find useful.


(18 December 2020). ‘Invisible shipwrecks’ belie falling migrant deaths: UN (external link) . Al Jazeera.

(2 June 2023). Panama launches operation in Darien jungle targeting organized crime, migrant smugglers (external link) . Associated Press.

(16 April 2023). The trek: A migrant trail to America | The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper (external link) . CNN.

Alexander, I. (13 September 2023). 'Disguised as tourism’: Colombia's 'VIP' migration routes (external link) . Al Jazeera.

Burnett, J. (19 January 2020). $11 billion and counting: Trump's border wall would be the world's most costly (external link) . NPR.

Holman, J. (1 Octobr 2023). Journey through the Darien Gap: Mexican authorities overwhelmed by surge (external link) . Al Jazeera.

Martinez, K. (11 April 2023). US, Panama and Colombia aim to stop Darien Gap migration (external link) . Associated Press.

Newman, L. Desperate journeys: Record number of migrants crossing deadly Darién Gap (external link) . Youtube. Al Jezeera.

Paton Walsh, N., Gallón, N., Lainé, B. & Villalón, C. (17 April 2023). On one of the world’s most dangerous migrant routes, a cartel makes millions off the American dream (external link) . CNN.

Roy, D. & Baumgartner, S. (22 June 2022). Crossing the Darién Gap: Migrants risk death on the journey to the U.S (external link) . Council on Foreign Relations.

Turkewitz, J. (9 November 2022). A girl loses her mother in the jungle, and a migrant dream dies (external link) . New York Times.

Turkewitz, J. (21 May 2023). The U.S. left them behind. They crossed a jungle to get here anyway (external link) . New York Times.

Wolfe, D. (8 August 2023). The Darién Gap: migrant route of last resort (external link) . World Vision.

Policy and Reports

Global Compact for Migration (external link) , UN

Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, United Nations General Assembly

Black, J. and Z. Sigman (2022). 50,000 lives lost during migration: analysis of Missing Migrants Project data 2014–2022 (external link) . IOM GMDAC.


Siegel, D., & Nagy, V. (2018). The Migration Crisis?: Criminalization, Security and Survival (external link) . Eleven International Publishing.

Zaiotti, R. (2016). Externalizing Migration Management: Europe, North America and the Spread of 'Remote Control' Practices (external link) . Routledge.

Scholarly Articles

FitzGerald, D. S. (2020). Remote control of migration: Theorising territoriality, shared coercion, and deterrence (external link) . Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 46(1), 4–22. 

Frelick, B., Kysel, I. M., & Podkul, J. (2016). The impact of externalization of migration controls on the rights of asylum seekers and other migrants (external link) . Journal on Migration and Human Security, 4(4), 190–220.

Menjívar, C. (2014). Immigration law beyond borders: Externalizing and internalizing border controls in an era of securitization (external link) . Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 10(1), 353–369. 

Stock, I., Üstübici, A., & Schultz, S. U. (2019). Externalization at work: Responses to migration policies from the Global South (external link) . Comparative Migration Studies, 7(1), 48, s40878-019-0157-z. 

Taylor, L. (2022). Health crisis for migrants crossing the Darién Gap is intensifying, MSF warns (external link) . BMJ, o1323. 

Yates, C. (2023). Inclusive counting: An essential but insufficient approach to account for missing migrants in Panama and Colombia’s shared Darien Gap (external link) . Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 1–18. 

Yates, C., & Bolter, J. (2021). African migration through the Americas: Drivers routes and policy responses (external link) . Migration Policy Institute.

Yates, C., & Leutert, S. (2020). A Gender perspective of migrant kidnapping in Mexico (external link) . Victims & Offenders, 15(3), 295–312. 

Yates, O. E. T., Manuela, S., Neef, A., & Groot, S. (2022). Reshaping ties to land: A systematic review of the psychosocial and cultural impacts of Pacific climate-related mobility (external link) . Climate and Development, 14(3), 250–267. 

Donate or Get Involved!

Missing Migrants Project (external link) , IOM.


Maggie Perzyna : Welcome to Borders & Belonging, a podcast that explores regional migration issues in a global context. This series is produced by CERC Migration in collaboration with Lead Podcasting. I'm Maggie Perzyna, a researcher with the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration program at Toronto Metropolitan University. Today, we're discussing how countries are increasingly pursuing strategies to externalize their migration control. This refers to the practice of passing border control measures and responsibilities onto neighbouring or transit countries through policies and multi-nation agreements. Externalization allows countries to prevent or deter migrants from reaching their own borders. These types of policies disproportionately affect people from the Global South, many of whom need travel visas to enter countries in the Global North. As traditional paths become more heavily fortified and monitored, migrants are forced to navigate alternative, often more treacherous routes. One example of this is the Darién National Park, also known as the 'Darién  Gap'. It has become a leading transit point for migrants in search of work and safety in North America since authorities have cracked down on other routes by air and sea. In this episode, we explore how global migration policies push migrants from as far away as Africa and Southeast Asia to take this incredibly dangerous route connecting North and South America. In a moment, I'll be joined by two esteemed researchers to learn more about the externalization of migration control. But first, we'll hear from someone who knows firsthand what it's like to cross the Darién Gap. There are many things that Robert wishes he could block from his memory of the Darién Gap. The hordes of families hungry and afraid. The scorpions, jaguars and snakes seemingly ready to attack at any moment. The rushing rivers could sweep you away at any second. More than anything though, Robert wishes he could forget the death that he saw all around him. 

Robert: There were a lot of smells. A lot of smells. Many dead people. We saw people who had died in tents with their arms around each other. It was just, horrendous.

Maggie Perzyna: Robert never imagined he'd crossed one of the most dangerous terrains on earth. Raised in the small town of Bobures on the shores of Lake Maracaibo, the father of three had always worked hard to provide for his family. But in the past few years, Venezuela's economic situation became so dire that he could no longer make ends meet.

Robert: Do you know how much the minimum wage is in Venezuela? The minimum wage in Venezuela is $5. Everyone wants to be able to support their families. In Venezuela, I had a butcher shop and a few other side hustles. And well, there was no way we could support ourselves like that. It's unfortunate, especially in a country that's as rich as Venezuela.

Maggie Perzyna: So, in 2022, Robert started to consider what it might be like to migrate to the US. His brother was already there living in Alabama. If he saved up, Robert thought he might be able to find a flight there in a year's time. But then, one Wednesday, last September, he got a phone call. 

Robert: My brother called me while I was in Bobures. He called and asked me if I had the balls – sorry for using that expression – but he asked if I had the courage to cross the Darién.

Maggie Perzyna: Robert took the offer in stride, especially because his brother and a friend offered to lend him money for the journey.

Robert: They call me on a Wednesday, if memory serves me right, and then I left that Saturday for the state of Zulia. Then I made my way to Colombia.

Maggie Perzyna: Robert traversed the Caribbean ocean, mountains, rivers and swamps, alongside hundreds of other migrants from Venezuela, Colombia and Haiti. Soon enough, he learned a heartbreaking lesson. It didn't seem to matter what age you were, the Darién Gap could kill anyone.

Robert: There was a girl that I had left Columbia with. I saw her get to the top of mountain. She was not doing well. She looked sick. I later learned that she had died. She was very young, probably around 18 or 20 years old.

Maggie Perzyna: So, Robert focused his attention on the only thing he hoped would get him through the jungle. His children.

Robert: I saw a lot of things that shook me up. But I tried to block them out. I just thought about my kids. By doing so I was able to keep on walking and walking and walking.

Maggie Perzyna: After spending five days crossing the Darién, Robert hoped for a reprieve. But crossing Central America and Mexico was just as difficult, if not worse. Armed gangs extorted him and other migrants for money, and police threatened to send them back to Venezuela.

Robert: The jungle is hard. But I think what's even harder is the journey to Mexico. Mexico is horrible, horrible. We got chased a lot. I had to jump over several fences, across fields to get to my destination. They knew that we were coming from Venezuela, they would see us with our luggage, and they will chase us down to extort money from us.

Maggie Perzyna: After one month of travel and six days in prison at the Mexico US border, Robert finally made it to Alabama. He works minimum wage jobs and shares the house with other migrants sending whatever leftover money he has at the end of the month to his children in Venezuela. And even though he made it safe and sound to the US, Robert dreams of the day he can go back to his home in Venezuela.

Robert: I didn't come here to stay. I really believe in my country. I believe in my country. Maybe I'll stay here for, I don't know, three or four years. I want to go back though. I hope that next year when there are elections, there will be justice.

Maggie Perzyna: Many thanks to Robert for sharing his experiences crossing the Darién Gap.  Joining me to discuss how global migration policies drive migrants into taking increasingly dangerous routes are Edwin Viales Mora and Caitlyn Yates. Edwin is a data and research assistant and focal point for the IOM's Missing Migrants Project in San José, Costa Rica. Caitlyn is a PhD candidate in socio-cultural anthropology at the University of British Columbia, and a fellow in the Central America and Mexico Policy Initiative at the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law. Thanks to you both for joining me.

Edwin Viales Mora: Thanks so much. 

Caitlyn Yates: Thanks for having us.

Maggie Perzyna: So, Caitlyn, what are some of the common policies or strategies being used by countries exploring externalized migration control as a tactic to control the flow of migrants to their borders?

Caitlyn Yates: Yeah, we can think of externalization as this idea of certain countries pushing out their migration enforcement objectives and their policies beyond their actual borders. So, another way to maybe think of this as kind of this process of outsourcing whereby monitoring and confinement and deterrence strategies, mostly by countries in the Global North, are actually kind of beginning well before migrants reach those intended destinations. So, this is a practice that David Fitzgerald has called 'remote control'. And it basically happens through agreements and funding and other strategies by countries, primarily in North America and Europe, to get transitory, or even origin countries on board with thwarting and limiting migration. And to kind of give you a concrete example of what externalization might look like in practice. One common example is the interception of boats that carry migrants in international waters with those boats then being returned or sent back to the location where they started. In the Western Hemisphere that might be somewhere like Haiti or Cuba. And then the European context to somewhere like Tunisia or to Libya. And what this does, then this externalization strategy, is not only to begin enforcement, farther away from Global North country's actual borders, but to attempt to deter to thwart migrants from ever reaching those borders in the first place.

Maggie Perzyna: Right. So, what are the consequences of these policies on migrants and their journeys? Edwin?

Edwin Viales Mora: Well, it is important to take into account that the policies of the different governments in the world and in the region, have consequences. When we talk about deaths and disappearances of migrants. Mainly of this consequence [are] the deaths and disappearances in migrants, and I think it is important to remind [people about] the record international commitments made by the state to the international coordinated efforts indicated in the Goal 8 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration about deceased and missing migrants (Goal 8: "Save lives and establish coordinated international efforts on missing migrants"). Because the main consequence of that policies in many locations is the death and disappearances of migrants during the migratory transit.

Caitlyn Yates: I would agree with Edwin here that as we increasingly externalize, and kind of develop more robust enforcement policies, one of the one of the main results is going to be more dangerous migration pathways. But I'd also say also more costly migration pathways. And so migrants feeling that they're being forced increasingly to also hire smugglers or to purchase smuggling services, as well as at times to attempt to request protection in countries where they may not feel safe. But given that they're increasingly unable to reach the destinations that they were initially attempting to reach.

Maggie Perzyna: So, one spot that's experiencing a huge increase in migrant movement is the Darién Gap, which sits between Panama and Colombia. Can you give us an idea of the scale of migration across this route?

Edwin Viales Mora: Yes, sure. I think when we talk about the data, disaggregation of the of the deaths and disappearances of migrants, it is important to put that in perspective. With our data in the region, the year 2022 represent a tragic record of lost life of migrants in the Americas, with 1432 deaths and disappearances of migrants recorded by the Missing Migrants Project, which corresponds to 241 females, 672 males, 92, minors, and 426 of undetermined sex. This number of lost lives of migrants is the highest recorded since 2014, when the Missing Migrants Project began its research and data collection process. And it is important to highlight to according to our data, that this is a region with the highest number. When we talk about the Darién National Park. This is a region with the highest underreporting of data in all the Americas term for this data represent minimum and the actual number of dead and missing it is much higher than presented. For example, from January 2018. From today, in the Darién National Park, we have recorded 258 deaths and disappearances of migrants corresponding to 36 women, 36 men, 41, minors and 145 unidentified migrants. I think that has high numbers of deaths and disappearances in that region, we have to call our attention to make better and greater efforts to attack and to engage that situation in that region of the Americas.

Caitlyn Yates: Yeah, I mean, I think to fully understand what's happening now, we also have to go back in time a little bit and understand that this isn't a route that emerged out of nowhere. This is a pathway that has existed for decades. So, the Darién Gap, which just is basically this border region between Panama and Colombia, is important because it also happens to be the border demarcation between South and Central America. And so even beginning in the late 90s, in the early 2000s, there was migration in and through the Darién Gap, primarily, at that point, of displaced Colombians during the Colombian conflict. But you really don't see or hear about much migration until the mid-2010s, when mostly Caribbean migrants began heading northward to the United States and Canada using this route. And you really don't start to hear the Darién Gap making headlines until about two years ago. So, beginning in 2021, is the first time that more than 100,000 migrants crossed the Darién Gap successfully. Estimates are as high as up to 400,000 people that are anticipated to cross by the end of this year. And so, I think in terms of the scale, what needs to maybe be emphasized here is that while crossing through the Darién has existed for decades, really in the span of about two and a half years. This is a pathway that has become one of the most transited pathways in the world.

Maggie Perzyna: Wow, those are pretty staggering numbers. The Darién Gap has been dubbed as 'Hell On Earth', can you tell me about this area and why there's been such a significant rise in the number of migrants trying to cross it and what actually makes it so dangerous?

Edwin Viales Mora: Yeah, sure. And I want to add that this is not a new situation. I remember too when I heard the first report of large migratory flows, mainly by Cuban national migrants crossing the Darién Gap was in 2012. And I want to highlight that too. It is not new, it is not a new situation. I have to add too that the area is a bottleneck of diverse and changing migratory flows from Spanish and Creole speaking Latin American nations, as well as migrants from other countries who speak English, Mandarin and Hindu. And lately, there has been an increase in my migrants from China, India and Afghanistan. According to the most recent Panama migration flow monitoring of May 2023, the top 40 regular migrants by nationality that cross through the Darién National Park in that respective border were migrants from Venezuela, Haiti, Ecuador, and China. And it is important when we talk about the risks that due to physical and political conditions and the geographic characteristics of a virgin jungle, make this region are very dangerous. And migrants are exposed to false for cliffs, bites of poisonous animals, such as snakes or spiders, drowning due to the forging of large rivers, because in their migratory transit, they must cross rivers such as (Atrato river) [?] or suffer broken bones or exertion during the difficult conditions of the road. And they are also exposed to suffer multiple types of violence, such as assaults, beatings and sexual violence including by organized crime groups operating in this region.

Maggie Perzyna: So, we talked a little bit about the policies and how, you know, global governance results in externalization. But can you sort of home in a little bit more on what kind of policies are drawing people from as far away as you've said, China, Pakistan to this particular place? Caitlyn?

Caitlyn Yates: Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, kind of echoing what Edwin was discussing. I mean, the primary nationalities that we're talking about still are countries like Venezuela, like Ecuador, like Haiti who are within the Western Hemisphere. But in any given day, we're also talking about roughly two dozen total nationalities arriving and crossing successfully through the Darién Gap. Just to make this a little bit starker. Since 2010, when Panama began registering these migration numbers, they registered at least 95 nationalities. So, at some point, you know, people from truly all over the world have crossed through, have crossed through Darién. And absolutely, this comes back to this idea of externalization. To begin, it has a lot to do with visa regimes, and specifically the inability of individuals from outside of the Western Hemisphere to access visas - tourists or otherwise - in countries like the United States and Canada, where they're primarily often trying to go or even farther south, and countries like Mexico and in countries in Central America. And so, what this does is it forces individuals to find an entry point into the Western Hemisphere, that's very, very far from their ultimate destination. So, most individuals end up entering the Western Hemisphere if they're coming from the African or Asian continents, through countries like Brazil, or Ecuador, or sometimes less likely, but sometimes also countries in the Caribbean. And then they must begin to trek an irregular trek through upwards of a dozen countries in the Americas to eventually reach those final destinations. And as a result of that, this means that you have kind of a host of other issues that are arising including lack of interpretation, including a number of different kinds of cultural, religious, and social differences of individuals moving in and through this Darién region that creates additional hurdles in addition to the kind of geographic hurdles that that Edwin was describing of the actual crossing of the Darién itself.

Maggie Perzyna: So, you touched on this a little bit already, but who's trying to cross and where are they going?

Edwin Viales Mora: We have many attempts crossing of Venezuela migrants, of Haitian migrants, and recently migrants from China and India. That is, it is important to highlight that the migratory flows that as we call here, that extra-continental migratory flows confirmed by African migrants, they are to cross through the Darién National Park, and they are all the migratory flows, all the mixed military flows, attempt to reach the south border of the United States to seek more opportunities of work. Opportunities to improve their lives in the United States. The majority of the migrants who use those routes want to do that - to reach the United States through its south border.

Maggie Perzyna: Caitlin, you've done a lot of research on this area. What do migrants face on the difficult route through the Darién National Park? Have you been hearing any stories from migrants who have made this difficult journey?

Caitlyn Yates: Yeah, absolutely. So, I spent about six months in total living in Panama's migrant camps in the Darién province in 2022, and 2023. And in that, I mean, informally, at least part of my work started to become working as an interpreter for English and Haitian Creole, which are the other languages in addition to Spanish that I speak. And so, every day was a different type of story often of tragedy that had to be navigated when people finally successfully reached the other side of the jungle, the Darién Gap. You know, I think the issue that came up the most were for individuals who, who had lost a loved one or a friend or a travel companion, moving in and through the Darién Gap. And so, you know, the horrific kind of statements that you would hear, as people walked out every day were statements like, "my brother drowned", or "my wife was carrying our baby", and they couldn't make it across the river. The number of bodies that individual counted, as they walked through. "My friend broke his ankle, and I had to leave him behind". Basically, what a lot of the stories were, were focusing on these kind of really, really difficult situations of losing loved ones, and the sort of impossible decisions that they had to make as they continued walking through the jungle, and leaving those individuals behind. The other real issue, and the other real kind of story behind this was the condition in which people who had successfully crossed the jungle, the condition that they were in as they arrived. So, the number of people who are kind of an extreme dehydration situations, or who arrived with broken bones or dislocated joints were pretty immense. In some cases, there is medical care, at least kind of first aid level medical care. But the real story were trying to navigate children being extremely dehydrated, individuals having not only open fractures, but major infections. And really, they're just not being services on the ground that were able or capable of meeting those needs. And so, what it basically started to feel like at the end was just kind of this triage of getting people at least to a point where they could continue their journeys, because staying in those conditions, especially in the camps, as they are now really just wasn't on the table. And so, recovery, hopefully taking place farther north, including in Costa Rica and beyond, where people were able to, to rest outside of the conditions of living in a jungle.

Maggie Perzyna: It's so horrifying to hear. Apparently, it takes like what, three, four days five days to cross?

Caitlyn Yates: At a minimum.

Maggie Perzyna: And often people are not prepared. Are they?

Caitlyn Yates: No, no that I mean, that's the issue, right? And one of the big questions that I asked as a researcher to many of the people that I spoke with and worked with was, “Well, what did you bring? What did you, what did you bring to prepare yourself for the journey?” And, you know, the answer is, we brought some water and maybe some crackers. We maybe had a tent, or these rain boots that people wear to cross the jungle. But when the mud is up to your waist or your chest, or when the rivers are too strong for you to be able to walk through. They're really, the items that you've purchased really kind of become inconsequential. And no matter what you do, you're never prepared. I mean, you can never bring enough water because it's too heavy. You're sleeping basically in mud, right? If you are sleeping at all. And so, the situation really becomes dire. But you become very ill even if you are successful in crossing just as a result of the immense rain, the mosquito bites, and really anything else that you can possibly think of. I mean, one of the things that I was sick for the entire six months, I was basically in the camps. I called it the camp cough. It wasn't COVID it was just that everyone had respiratory infections because of the amount of rain. And that just never goes away. And so, so yeah, the conditions outside of the actual hike itself, the conditions and the illness and the injury is really what creates so much kind of devastation once people are successful in crossing.

Maggie Perzyna: Edwin you also hear a lot of stories, is there anything that really has stood out for you?

Edwin Viales Mora: I want to add that Caitlyn makes an excellent summary, like a snapshot of the situation that is happening right now in the Darién National Park. And I want to add too that due of the many of these situations, the accidents, the bites of poisonous animals, the violence, we have registered several testimonies from migrants who talk about that migrants buried other migrants in the middle of the jungle. That is a very concerning situation. The land road it is called like 'hell on earth', because that dangerous and difficult conditions that the migrants have to face. And I think it is important to add too during the second semester of 2022, we saw an increase in the use of the so-called VIP route to the central American Caribbean as this road leaves San Andrés Island in Colombia, mainly bound for the [?] key to avoid the using of the dangerous long road to the Darién National Park. And it is necessary to emphasize that due to the extreme [?] conditions that occur in the Caribbean, make this route extremely dangerous too. And we have already registered at least three invisible shipwrecks of boats with migrants and particularly with Venezuelan migrants, on the road. An 'invisible shipwreck', it is an incident of which neither military nor civilian authorities nor the media hub knowledge that it's happened. And I want to highlight to the difficult conditions that the migrants face, particularly when they cross big rivers. We register many, many, many cases of death by drowning because of this situation.

Maggie Perzyna: So, the United States announced a partnership with Panama and Colombia for a 60-day campaign to shut down the Darién Gap. Is this even something that's achievable? Or is it just good press for the US government to kind of make it look like they're trying to solve the problem? Caitlyn?

Caitlyn Yates: Yeah, thanks for that question. Frankly, I have a lot of thoughts about this agreement. But I think it is important to maybe again, here step back a little and contextualize that there have been ongoing talks for years at this point between the United States and Panama and Colombia. But in April of 2023, after these rounds of discussion, these three countries did publicize a trilateral statement that laid out as they described three, quote, "ambitious goals" to basically be undertaken during a 60-day period. So, the first of these was to supposedly end the movement of people through the daring itself. The second was to open more legal pathways for migrants. And the third was to increase services for residents or for locals on both sides of the border. So, we've now passed that 60-day mark, if we were starting from the moment of the press release, and since then, what has really happened is quite limited. The first thing that's happened is that the United States has announced migration processing centers to be created in Colombia for Haitians and Venezuelans. The other thing that has happened is that Panama has begun what they're calling 'Operation Shield'. It is an operation that is ongoing in the Darién with security forces from all Panama's security agencies, that is working to crack down on migrant smuggling groups and bandits that are operating in the daring. So, those are the kinds of concrete steps that we've seen since this announcement was publicized back in April. But other than that, the situation of Darién continues to kind of be business as usual. So, migrants continue arriving, there are still reports of robberies, migrant deaths. And in terms of the increase in services for communities living in the Darien there has not really been any materialization of that commitment either. So, I say all of this, because I think, given the really limited presence of officials that are actually on the border line between Colombia and Panama, of either Colombian or Panamanian forces, the statement was never really quite realistic and its objectives. First, the statement came out of diplomatic negotiations, without including operational officials on the ground. Second, I think we have to keep coming back to the geography itself of the Darién and the fact that this is logistically a really, really difficult place to operate, given the lack of roads over lack of official airports and things like that. And then third, Colombia and Panama don't really seem to have a really strong incentive to stop migration through the Darién because this would require that either of these countries then receive permanently host of the migrants who are moving through these spaces was just the opposite of what both countries have stated publicly that they want. So, I do think that there this was, in some ways, very good press. It at least showed a commitment to the ongoing discussions between the three countries, and that the United States continues to pressure Colombia and Panama to do more to stop migration through Darién. But as it stands now, very, very little has actually been done materially to limit migration through this region.

Edwin Viales Mora: I just want to add that, as we pointed out many times too, more regular migration channels should be open to prevent death and disappearances. If we open more legal paths, more regular pathways, when we talk about migrants in the Darién National Park, we have to take into account that we are saving lives. It is being properly demonstrated by the by the studies by the IOM, and other investigations, that if we have regular channels, the migrants don't use the irregular channels and don't use any irregular roads. But we have to keep in mind always, we talk about human beings who risk their lives for seek a better life, we have to keep in mind always that.

Maggie Perzyna: With that in mind, what steps do you think could be taken to ensure safer migration routes and protect the rights of migrants?

Caitlyn Yates: I mean, look, in an ideal world, migrants wouldn't have to cross through a jungle to find safety. If they must cross from Colombia into Panama, for whatever reason that might be in an ideal world, we would be talking about travel via ferry or on small planes, which is the pathway that tourists take to cross this region, but which is not currently available to migrants and refugees. I say all of that realistically knowing that that's not an option on the table, especially with this continued pressure by the United States to stop all migration from South America and to Central America. So, from a policy perspective, if we were going to make this route at least slightly safer, I think there are three things that can be done pretty quickly, and even inexpensively. The first is to have better information available in a multitude of languages. For migrants who were on the Colombian side of the border, before they cross. This information would be things like "don't drink stagnant water in the jungle, it will make you sick", or "don't put your camp next to the river, this will make you more likely to drown if there's flash floods". It's a really small thing, but I think it would actually really matter in terms of, of saving lives. The second is to have interpreters in the camp. So, as I mentioned, I was living in the camps for several months and outside of a few individuals who worked for Doctors Without Borders, I was the only English speaker, and the only Haitian Creole speaker, there was not a single official on the Panamanian side who spoke any language other than Spanish. And this really limits people's ability to access information or report a missing loved one, or advocate for themselves if they need to receive medical care. So, language becomes deeply important, and also a relatively solvable problem, given the number of English speakers of the very least who live in Panama. And then finally, medical care. So, deeper within the jungle beyond the actual camps on the outskirts of the jungle migrants are received through what Panama calls reception communities. At times, there are doctors, but they very, very rarely have access to supplies, including clean drinking water, just having an ability to have electrolytes, or clean drinking water, or alcohol on hand to disinfect infections that people have sustained during their journeys would really, really help people be able to continue their journeys. And that's just not something that is that's currently available at this time. So, if I was to say three small things that hopefully aren't too expensive, and that would have a really, really big impact on individual's ability to successfully cross, that's probably where I would start.

Edwin Viales Mora: I think, besides of the three steps proposed by Caitlyn, it is important to fight against the myth in that region, particularly fight against two myths. Many of the of the groups of smuggling of migrants or criminal groups, have they idea that the road is safe and walkable. And we can, we can walk, that walk can be done in three days, which is absolutely false. You need minimum one week to cross through Darién National Park. And the other very, very, very important thing for us and for IOM too, is about the attitude from the government, particularly from the government in Panama. You will have a receptive and open attitude to get help from international cooperation, and this should be recognized – that the situation exists – that migrants die crossing the jungles of the Darién National Park every day. And this is under any circumstances should be seen as normal. You can normalize and you see a migrant die during the migratory transit is normal. We have to talk about it. For us. It is one of the first step. And we've been since March, we have been performed the sessions of the network of the Americas on of the Missing Migrants asked for us to talk about and to put in the political and in the media that topic. For us it is two key things. And another important thing, as Caitlyn mentioned in several locations, is to provide medical services, provide with water provide, with translators in other languages different from Spanish. We think that we have to engage with that point as soon as possible. Because I said it previously, we are talking about human beings dying, migrants dying. And families who don't know that happen to their loved ones.

Maggie Perzyna: Thank you both so much for sharing your stories and your knowledge. Are there any kind of final thoughts that you would like to underscore?

Edwin Viales Mora: Yes, I think it is very, very important to highlight that the disappearance of a person in the context of migration has multiple, profoundly negative impacts on their families, and generates economic, psychological, legal, and administrative needs. Families of the missing migrants should have the opportunity to participate meaningfully in all activities related to the search for the loved ones. As I've been pointing that out in multiple locations by the Missing Migrants Project, the disappearances of a family member during the migratory transit leaves their loved ones into a limbo, with a sense of not knowing what became of their loved one.

Caitlyn Yates: I would just add one more thing. I mean, I think when we talk about enforcement and externalization, we think about the United States and the US's role in, in kind of prompting migrants to take these long journeys as it is. But I also just want to highlight Canada's role, at least maybe not so directly in the enforcement side, but in the ultimate destination side. So, for the individuals that that I got to know, especially individuals from French speaking countries, in West Africa, for example, about a third of the total people that that I stayed in contact with actually ended up in Canada rather than the United States. And so, I do think that it's important to note, both that kind of diversity and ultimate destinations, but also how this this does extend beyond the relationship between Panama, Colombia and the United States when we're talking about migration through this very, very narrow but small part of the world.

Maggie Perzyna: Thanks to Edwin Viales Mora and Caitlyn Yates for joining me today. And thank you for listening. This is a CERC Migration podcast produced in collaboration with Lead Podcasting. I just wanted to acknowledge that today's episode was only possible due to the efforts of our amazing team. They went above and beyond by volunteering their time to bring the story to our listeners. Thank you to Berti Olinto for providing the English translation, to Caro Rolando for all her work on the Spanish side, and to Angela Glover for putting it all together. If you enjoyed the episode, subscribe to Borders & Belonging on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. For more information on the externalization of migration control and the Darién Gap, please visit the show notes. I'm Maggie Perzyna. Thanks for listening!