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Thousands wait in a Colombian town for a trek to reach Darien Gap

Authorities are warning of a severe migration crisis as a record number of people, mostly from Venezuela, attempt to cross a jungle passage.

Thousands of migrants and refugees are waiting in a town in northwestern Colombia for boats that will take them across the Gulf of Uraba, from where they will trek through treacherous jungle on their way to the United States, Colombia’s human rights ombudsman said.

The group, described by Colombian government officials as a humanitarian crisis, have gathered in Necocli, a mandatory stop on the journey to the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama.

“The migration crisis this year is far more serious than last year,” Ombudsman Carlos Camargo said on Wednesday, citing the larger number of people trying to make the journey and their precarious economic situation.

He said about 9,000 migrants and refugees, most of whom are from Venezuela, are currently in Necocli.

Nearly 7 million refugees and migrants have fled Venezuela in recent years amid a deepening security and socioeconomic crisis in the South American country.

Many fled to neighboring Colombia, which last year announced plans to grant temporary protection to about 1 million Venezuelan asylum seekers so they can work legally and better integrate into the country.

But in recent months, many Venezuelan refugees and migrants have attempted to reach the US via the Darien Gap, a mountainous jungle passage between Colombia and Panama, where they face threats of violence and other harsh conditions.

Panama’s National Migration Service said earlier this week that 151,582 migrants and refugees made the crossing between January and September – a record that surpassed the 133,726 crossings recorded for all of 2021.

This year’s figure included approximately 21,570 minors.

“There have already been an unprecedented number of Venezuelans who have risked their lives by traversing the dense jungle between Central and South America,” said Giuseppe Loprete, head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) mission in Panama. to Reuters agency.

Venezuelans have recently overtaken Guatemalans and Hondurans to become the second-largest nationality stopped at the US border, after Mexicans.

In August, Venezuelans were stopped 25,349 times, a 43 percent increase from 17,652 in July and four times the 6,301 encounters in August 2021.

Meanwhile, the IOM and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced earlier Wednesday that about 4.3 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela lack access to food, housing and stable jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The groups said rising costs of living, high unemployment rates and the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic have made it difficult for Venezuelans to integrate into host communities across the region.

Half of all refugees and migrants cannot afford three meals a day, according to the organizations, while many are forced to resort to “sex, begging or debt” to survive.

“As the world faces numerous humanitarian crises, Venezuelans and their host communities must not be forgotten,” Eduardo Stein, the joint UNHCR-IOM special representative for refugees and migrants from Venezuela, said in a statement.

The European Union announced on Tuesday that it will provide $33 million in humanitarian aid to Colombia, much of which will go to those affected by the crisis in Venezuela.

Colombia’s Vice-President Francia Marquez acknowledged the “complex situation” regarding migrants and refugees trying to cross the Darien Gap during a press conference with Janez Lenarcic, the EU’s crisis management commissioner on Wednesday.

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