Haitian refugees crossing the “jungle of death”

  In South America and North America border, there is a 400-kilometer-long, named Darien swamp isthmus, which borders Colombia and Panama in a vast area of jungle, not only the terrain is treacherous, there are poisonous snakes everywhere, but also controlled by gang organizations, ordinary people simply dare not venture into the jungle, into the jungle may also be infected with malaria and other deaths. Therefore, the jungle in the Darien swamp is known as one of the world’s most dangerous jungle, also known as the “jungle of death”. The 100-kilometer-long jungle, which has no roads, has been a thick wall for refugees from Central and South American countries trying to smuggle themselves into the United States. Despite this, nearly 100,000 refugees are gathering there in 2021, risking their lives to reach the United States.
  Nekokli, a port city of about 70,000 people in northwestern Colombia, is unusually hot due to its location near the equator, where the light is intense and temperatures exceed 30 degrees Celsius. Looking around the coast, there are rows of tents covered with black film. 2021, a large number of Haitian refugees gathered here, also known as the “jungle stronghold”. In order to enter the jungle of Darien, refugees from South America heading to the U.S. must take a boat from the port of Nekokli to the other side. The overwhelming number of refugees has forced some to stay in the neighboring city of Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city and formerly known for the Medellin Cartel, led by drug lord Pablo Escobar.
  Sisters Saleca, 6, and Maria, 2, followed their father, Junior, and mother, Mariel, to Necocelli. Three years after the 2010 earthquake, which killed more than 300,000 people and plunged the country into crisis, Junior went to Brazil, where he found a job in a supermarket, married, and lived with his wife and two daughters. However, after the outbreak of the new crown epidemic, he was abruptly dismissed from his job, after which he could only do some temporary work, and the family’s life became difficult. 2021 July, the President of Haiti was assassinated, the country’s political turmoil, kidnappings and killings were frequent, and the security situation deteriorated extremely. Unable to live in Brazil and afraid to return home, Juniors and his wife decided to move to the United States, arriving at the end of September in Neckerley after a few twists and turns. “I didn’t want my daughters to follow in our footsteps and always wanted to find a better home for them. At the same time, I had to help my family and relatives who remained in the country.”
  Refugees who have struggled to reach the U.S. have no choice but to go back to their country, despite the strong rejection of Americans who say, “Go back to your country. “I don’t care. It’s up to them how they see refugees.” “I’ve often been in difficult situations in my life. If the Haitian economy was stable, I would not have left. I left my country only to find a new life.” Wearing T-shirts that said “I love Haiti,” the refugees said they were not abandoning their country and that they had no choice but to go to the U.S. Six-year-old Saleka shyly told of her dream: “My dream is to become a ballerina. It will be what I want!”
  Before the Juniors prepared to cross the “jungle of death”, Marië said with a troubled look on her face: “I was indeed a bit scared, not knowing what would happen next and where I would be in danger. Despite this, we decided to go ahead. If we can reach the United States, what awaits us will be a better life than Haiti. We will definitely be okay.” Juniors, for his part, is mindful of the information he receives from those around him: “Many people are unable to walk, are unwell and injured soon after entering the jungle, and some even die in the jungle. The biggest concern now is whether we can get through the jungle without any problems.” But no matter what, the Juniors were determined to embark on a journey that would be more difficult than they could imagine.
  Refugees from South America trying to get to the U.S. “visa-free” will have to cross the dangerous jungle by land, and it will take more than six days. In 2021 alone, more than 50 bodies, including those of children, were found in the jungle. According to estimates by the International Organization for Migration and others, more than 200 refugees have died in the jungle from mud bogs and heart attacks, in addition to many who have contracted diseases, been bitten by poisonous snakes, pillaged by armed groups and even raped. In the face of such dangers, the number of refugees trying to cross the jungle has increased dramatically, jumping from nearly 8,600 in 2020 to about 95,000 in 2021, a tenfold increase, and almost all of them are Haitians, including nearly 20,000 children.
  The family of six, Nixon Chares, 43, is among the army of refugees. Chares moved far away to Brazil after the earthquake and made a living as a carpenter. But his income plummeted after the outbreak and he was unable to send money to his family and relatives left behind in Haiti. “My daughter is still in school, and she wants to go to college. And I don’t want my daughters to have such a hard time like we did.” Although very reluctant to leave his country, he decided to move his family to the United States for the sake of his children’s future.
  The journey was not so smooth, as his 5-year-old twin daughters became ill and bedridden in Colombia after drinking unclean water, and his older daughter, 13, said, “My father didn’t say anything about the trip away from home. I was filled with anxiety about whether it would go well all the way. Like driftwood at sea, I didn’t know where I was going to float to.” Nevertheless, she has often heard people say that living in the United States is “full of dreams. “My biggest dream is to help my family in Haiti and hope for a better life for those who stay in the country. My own dream is to be a pediatrician and to treat children.”
  To reach the jungle, the refugees had to take a ferry across the Gulf of Darien, the southernmost point of the Caribbean Sea. On the day of the scheduled departure, the Chares family was unable to board the boat because they had not purchased tickets, and the Juniors boarded the ferry that morning and headed across Darien Bay. “It took us a long time to get here.” Juniors said. Because of the refugee pile-up, the Colombian and Panamanian governments have put a limit on the number of refugees who can take the ferry to the other side each day, up to 500. As a result, the boat tickets were sold out a month ago. Some refugees who could not bear the ordeal even risked their lives trying to sneak across late at night, and there were frequent boat capsizes, with three people reportedly killed and six missing, including two children, late at night on October 10.

To reach the jungle, the refugees must take a ferry across Darien Bay, the southernmost point of the Caribbean Sea.

  A few hundred meters offshore, the refugees changed to small boats to get to the Darien Bay dock. Once at the dock, everyone is sprayed with disinfectant. Once ashore, the refugees prepared to head to the refugee camp at the entrance to the “jungle of death”. Due to the rough and muddy sandy roads, the refugees had to use motorbikes to enter the jungle, and only one person could be taken in each vehicle. The four members of the Junior family took a motorcycle and walked along the sandy road for a while, then a small river without a bridge appeared, and the motorcycle drove them directly from the river, but soon after crossing the river they were repeatedly blocked by a large ditch on the muddy road, so everyone had to get off and wait for the motorcycle to cross the large ditch before getting on.
  About two hours later, the Juniors saw hundreds of refugees sitting in the shade on the side of the road, with a “no passing” rope in front of which stood several men in black, all gang members. According to the source, from there on is the gang-controlled area, the rope is the equivalent of a checkpoint, to enter must be questioned, and is not allowed to take pictures in private. The Juniors tried to pass, but were asked to pay $50 each. Hearing that the cost of passage would be reduced as time pushed back, the Juniors decided to wait. Several hours later, the family was finally let through, and after passing a small river and walking for about half an hour, they saw a number of tents that were the refugee camp, a stronghold into the jungle.

  Juniors put down their luggage and started to set up a small tent. The family will spend the night in the tent, and tomorrow they will continue their journey. However, Juniol was inwardly very worried: “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, only God knows.” The camp was surrounded by darkness at night, during which dozens more refugees arrived, and what little space was left was immediately taken up by tents.
  Two more gang groups allegedly control the jungle area from the refugee camp to near the border. Refugees are asked for $200 each to get through, on the grounds of protecting their lives. After handing over $800 to the gangsters, Junior put on his heavy luggage and carried 2-year-old Maria forward, with his wife and 6-year-old Saleka following close behind. The family entered the jungle with a group of hundreds of refugees and began a “life-threatening journey”.
  The previous night’s rain made the roads even muddier as the refugees crossed several small rivers and struggled through the jungle without a road. But Saleka, riding on her father’s neck, smiled and said, “I’m happy, it feels good to walk in the river.” Thirteen hours after setting out, the family made it through a treacherous stretch of road and finally reached the Panamanian border in the late afternoon.
  The dangerous journey through the jungle has claimed the lives of many refugees, especially children. According to a UNICEF report published in October 2021, the journey through the Darien jungle is prone to symptoms such as dysentery, breathing difficulties and dehydration, which can be life-threatening if not treated promptly. As a result, the number of children who have lost their lives or parents is increasing, and criminal organizations are taking advantage of the opportunity to target the most vulnerable children.
  After seven days of trekking, the Juniors finally made their way through the jungle and arrived safely in Panama City. Looking back, Juniors said the refugees experienced so much suffering in the jungle, walked for six hours through the mountains in torrential rain, and saw people die in the river… it was truly horrible!
  Although the family arrived in Panama City, but 500 kilometers from the U.S. border, must be secretly through Mexico and other five countries. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Administration, the number of illegal immigrants apprehended at the southern border in 2021 is about 173, 3.8 times the number in 2020, the highest on record, due to the significant increase in Haitian refugees. As a result of the massive influx of refugees into Del Rio, Texas, U.S. Border Guard forces began a forced repatriation operation that was condemned as an inhumane act.
  From a humanitarian point of view, both refugees fleeing or at risk of persecution in their home countries and those seeking asylum in other countries to escape armed conflict and human rights abuses should be widely supported and protected by the international community. However, it is not yet known whether the U.S. government will take measures to protect these refugees, so although the Juniors arrived in the U.S. to request asylum, it is not known whether they will eventually be accepted or deported.

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