The number of migrants crossing the Darién increased in March and April, as have the cases of robbery and sexual violence.
MSF provides medical and mental health care at the San Vicente Migrant Reception Centre and has witnessed huge gaps in protection, medical care, and basic emergency services for the approximately 300 migrants that arrive at the centre each day.
“The conditions for receiving migrants are inadequate and deteriorating,” said Rabia Ben Ali, MSF coordinator in Panama. “Every day, hundreds of people arrive in Canaán Membrillo—the first village they arrive at in Panama after crossing the dangerous Darién Gap—but they do not receive any medical care. They are then taken three hours by boat to San Vicente where services are not sufficient and barely meet international standards.”
There is no care available for victims of sexual violence or patients suffering from serious medical problems in Canaán Membrillo and by the time they arrive at the San Vicente Migrant Reception Centre, their medical condition has often worsened, and it is too late for victims of sexual violence to receive some preventative treatments, such as prophylaxis to prevent infections, like HIV, or emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy—both which should be administered within 72 hours of the rape. In 2022, from January to the first week of May, MSF treated 89 cases of sexual violence that occurred whilst crossing the Darién jungle. In 2021, (April to December) 328 cases were treated.
“The conditions of the San Vicente facilities must also be improved,” said Ben Ali. “Shelters are not generally available and children and pregnant women sleep on the floor. Sanitary conditions are poor.” These conditions affect both the physical and mental health of migrants.
In April, MSF teams treated 78 patients a day on average, mostly for skin diseases and body aches. Twenty percent of the cases were related to diarrhoea, respiratory infections and digestive diseases.
MSF’s mental health team treated an average of six patients daily for conditions such as acute stress, depressive episodes, anxiety, and grief from the death of family members along the journey, including drowning. These conditions were mostly triggered by experiences that occurred while crossing the dangerous Darién Gap, where MSF has documented sexual violence, robberies and tragic accidents resulting from the treacherous terrain.
For this reason, MSF repeats its call for a safe route, in addition to emergency medical care in Canáan Membrillo and an improvement in reception conditions at the San Vicente MRC for migrants who cross the Darién jungle.