A small Colombian town on the shores of the Caribbean Sea called Necoclí is experiencing the biggest migratory crisis in recent years: more than 10,000 migrants from the Caribbean and Africa are stranded in its streets waiting to board a boat, enter the hostile jungle of the Darién Gap on the border with Panama and finally try to reach the United States.
Many of them, with children in their arms, waited on Wednesday a turn to buy for 50 dollars the few tickets on the boats – owned by a single tourism company – that would take them to Capurganá, a corregimiento (administrative division) of Acandí, the town where the journey through the Darién Gap begins. Only 750 people managed to board.
The situation in Necoclí – located in Antioquia, in the northwest of the country – began to spiral out of control for weeks. Hundreds of migrants accumulated first and then there were thousands. The authorities have given various explanations.
The Ombudsman’s Office said in a statement on Tuesday that the boats have not been able to leave “due to weather factors,” without specifying which ones, which has led to damming.
For his part, César Zúñiga, director of Necoclí’s Risk and Disaster Management Unit, told the AP that in the last six weeks the number of migrants who have arrived in the town has been greater than those who have followed their transit.
“We have been accumulating people due to the logistical and operational inability of the transport company, since they can only transport around 750 people a day, but at night around 1,000 or 1,300 arrive at us. In addition, they do not operate on weekends, which also increases the number of migrants,” he added.
Being a migrant in Colombia is not illegal. However, most of those who arrive in Necoclí do so irregularly and often cross the border with Ecuador.
The Ombudsman’s Office has calculated that in 2021 at least 33,000 people have passed to the border with Panama, the majority coming from Haiti, Cuba, Senegal and Ghana. Migration authorities have also reported people from Somalia, Guinea, Republic of the Congo and Burkina Faso.
“I am here to seek a better life, a better job,” Samedy Rijkaard, a 27-year-old Haitian, told The Associated Press, who along with his wife and son decided to leave Chile, where he had lived for the last five years, after feeling “Discriminated”.
Migrants are at serious risk when crossing by sea. In January this year, a boat wrecked near Necoclí with more than 16 people on board and at least six of them died, according to authorities.
Juan Arturo Gómez, an independent journalist from the Colombian Darien, told the AP that armed groups have exercised control over some of the boats that leave Necoclí illegally late at night and without security measures, especially after the shipwrecks.
“In the absence of effective control by the State, there is a very strict control of illegal groups, not because they have a humanitarian part, but because these situations affect their economic means, such as drug trafficking routes,” he said.
The director of Migration Colombia, Juan Francisco Espinosa, told the press on Wednesday that they do not contemplate issuing safe-conducts for migrants who are in Necoclí.
“We are not going to legalize and much less to facilitate migrant smuggling phenomena,” he said. In addition, he assured that Colombia and Panama this year signed a “memorandum of understanding” to work on “mixed migratory flows and information that allows” to protect this population.
The needs for food, accommodation, public services and health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic of the migrant population have overwhelmed the capacity of local authorities.
According to Zúñiga, basic services, planned to serve 20,000 residents of Necoclí, are saturated, solid waste increased by 17 tons and the aqueduct does not have the necessary capacity to supply peripheral neighborhoods.
“It is urgent that the Colombian and Panamanian authorities find shared solutions to save lives. A humanitarian response plan to alleviate the suffering of the migrant and refugee population is necessary,” Dominika Arseniuk, director of the Norwegian Council for Refugees in Colombia, told the AP.
In the Darien Gap, migrants are not only exposed to the inclemency of the jungle, but also to migrant and drug trafficking networks. Arseniuk explained that they have shown that migrants in this area have been extorted, victims of trafficking and sexual violence.
“People of Haitian nationality told the organization that one of their relatives was a victim of rape in Darien, but that extortion and intimidation occurred in other South American countries,” she added.
Despite the dangers, the Haitian Rijkaard assures that he wants to continue the trip with the hope that when he arrives in the United States the policies of President Joe Biden will benefit him and provide him with special help, because he assures that he cannot return to Haiti for the crisis he is going through.
“What is happening in my country is too complicated; the president has no security,” added Rijkaard, referring to the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.