Today, Ireland-based humanitarian aid agency, GOAL, announced that it is mounting a rapid response to the ever-worsening migrant crisis in Central America. The agency’s Colombia and Honduras teams are coordinating an effort to meet the most urgent needs of increasing numbers of migrants passing through both countries.
The drivers of this intense migration are complex and include worsening socio-economic repercussions following the pandemic, political crises and prolonged political unrest in countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador, extreme weather events, and new migration policies in the U.S. The anticipated El Niño climate phenomenon, which will warm ocean surface temperatures well above average, also threatens to further exacerbate conditions and spur more people to make the intensely challenging decision to move north.
Of significant concern is the number of migrants passing through the Darién Gap, a 100 km stretch of jungle and extremely hazardous terrain between Colombia and Panama. According to the Colombian Department of Protection of Citizens’ Rights, from January to June 2023, more than 250,000 migrants traversed the gap, a 297% increase vs the same period in 2022. Panama’s National Migration Service reports more current figures: through 23rd September, over 390,000 migrants have crossed, 82,000 of those in August.
These unprecedented migration levels are creating needs that exceed the resources of local and national government agencies and responding humanitarian organizations.
Gabriella Prandini, GOAL’s Humanitarian Director said,
“The people who are migrating northward across this region – individuals and families alike – already face life-threatening risks, especially in places like the Darién Gap. The trek through the Darién jungle leaves many injured, sometimes abandoned on muddy slopes, in danger of being swept away by sudden river floodings, and vulnerable to theft and GBV (Gender Based Violence). In countries along the route, already financially depleted families and vulnerable persons are hungry, sleeping in streets, prone to illness, and forced to beg.”
“The risk is now multiplied by the fact that the supplies of food, water, shelter, and basic health resources at any point in their journey are being exhausted by their sheer numbers. The unprecedented scale of the needs creates the likelihood of a crisis that we have never experienced before, if all humanitarian actors, who are already thinly stretched in terms of providing aid, and Governments in Central America, and governments in transit and destination countries, don’t scale up accordingly and work on long-term solutions to tackle the drivers of migration” continued Gabriella Prandini.
Also speaking about this acute migration crisis in Central America and the GOAL response, Luigi Loddo, GOAL’s LAC Regional Director, said,
“GOAL has been operating in the LAC (Latin America and Caribbean region) since 1998 when the aid agency launched an emergency response to Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and has continued to respond to subsequent crises and development challenges in the region. Since 2019, GOAL has been supporting host communities and Venezuelan refugees who have been exiled from their homeland, so is well placed to scale up this response to the migration crisis in Central America.
The initial phase of our response in Colombia and Honduras will reach more than 40,000 people and focus on areas of acute need.
In Colombia, the cities of Neoclí and Turbo serve as points of departure for migrants accessing the Darien Gap by boat. Activities there will include screening children for malnutrition; distribution of hot food and nutritional snacks, as well as supplements for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding; and supporting the responding local agencies.
In Honduras, the city of Danlí has been overwhelmed by migrants crossing the border with Nicaragua. Activities there will include food and water distribution; providing handwashing and latrine facilities as well as dignity kits for women; and efforts to ensure the protection of women and children, including psychological first aid and workshops addressing post-traumatic shocks” continued Luigi Loddo.
GOAL is actively working with local partner organizations, including CADENA, to coordinate efforts, and it continues to assess needs across the LAC region as the crisis unfolds.