A humanitarian crisis is brewing in a remote Colombian town that will challenge the entire region. More than 10,000 migrants are trapped in the municipality of Necoclí, waiting to begin their journey through Central America to reach the United States.
Organizations for refugees and migrants warn that the town is overwhelmed, and the residents confirm it, but with a smile on their faces.
This joy is due to the fact that thanks to the massive influx, the local economy has begun to flourish. The flow of foreign currencies, such as the dollar, has saved Necoclí from the forgetfulness of the Government and the pandemic.
“The arrival of the migrants has been a gift from God. Why? Because Necoclí is a very small town and being so small we have very few jobs for the people. Most of the activities are informal, there is no work, a lot of people suffered doing paid daily jobs and paid their daily expenses with that. Thanks to the arrival of the migrants, people here in Necoclí are working, getting out of the debts of which they are tired “, expresses Juan Pablo Guevara, who rents rooms to the Travellers.
In recent weeks, the municipality of Necoclí, located on the northern Colombian coast, in the Gulf of Urabá, has become one of the main departure points for thousands of migrants. Most come from Haiti and other islands in the Caribbean. Also from Africa and Asia.
A boat takes them to Panamanian territory, in the dangerous Darien jungle, from there they will begin their way to the United States or Canada.
The pandemic has aggravated the migration crisis in the Gulf of Urabá
In past months, 300 or 400 migrants used to cross two or three days a week, but for days now the boats, with a capacity for between 50 and 60 passengers, have made several trips in which they take about 800 migrants daily for four or five days. a week.
“It is a number that has not been seen in recent history; the municipality is overwhelmed and a binational humanitarian plan is needed between Colombia and Panama to respond,” said the director for Colombia of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) , Dominika Arseniuk.
The numbers of those who pass through there vary according to the Panamanian or Colombian authorities, but they agree that in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, they fell drastically, before shooting up again this year.
What used to be a more or less constant flow of people has been altered by quarantines or the impossibility of using means of transport in certain periods of time.
“These are factors that are explaining this variation in what is called the peak in the transit of migrants to the interior of Colombia and particularly in what is happening now,” says Donna Cabrera, migration specialist at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana.
An area controlled by the cartels and the inclement jungle of the Darien
The migrants enjoy the friendliness of the Colombians and the beautiful Caribbean landscape before starting one of the most dangerous routes in Latin America. The area, strategic for drug trafficking, is at the expense of armed groups.
“Some migrants denounced mafias that sell them tourist packages to make the trip from Ipiales in Nariño (southern Colombia) with costs that reach 300 dollars to cross the border,” denounced the Ombudsman, Carlos Camargo
Migrants suffer from robberies and extortion to sexual abuse. Likewise, six out of every ten people who arrive in Puerto Obaldia (Panama) have health problems such as gastrointestinal, skin or respiratory, according to the Panamanian Red Cross.
This week, the Governments of Colombia and Panama agreed on the need to coordinate a safe migratory transit.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.