View of the Pantheon built by the Red Cross to bury the bodies of illegal immigrants in the municipal cemetery of El Real de Santa Maria, Darien Province, Panama/AFP.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delivered 100 niches to Panama on Thursday to bury illegal immigrants who died while traveling through the desolate jungles of Darien on the border with Colombia.
In the municipal cemetery of the village of El Real de Santa Maria, about 300 kilometers southeast of Panama City, a niche was built amidst the disrepair of old tombs and crosses.
The new cemetery has 50 graves on either side, near which chickens peck at the ground, lizards sunbathe on stone headstones, and snakes die on the grass.
The cement niche was handed over by the ICRC to the Panamanian authorities, but was overwhelmed by the large number of immigrants entering this jungle border from Colombia in search of the American dream.
“It consists of 100 niches for individual burial of the remains of migrants who may have died along the Darien Route,” ICRC regional delegation head Marisela Silva Chau told AFP. We are delivering modules.”
Its purpose is to bury in the same enclosure the bodies or remains of migrants not claimed by their families that overflow from the area’s morgues.
The bodies are buried individually in plastic bags after taking data for identification. If they are claimed, they will be handed over to the family after relevant comparisons.
“The aim is to comply with international standards and treat the deceased with dignity and respect,” Jose Vicente Pachar, director of the Institute of Forensic and Legal Sciences, which relies on the Panama Public Prosecutor’s Office, told AFP.
uncertain death toll
The treacherous jungles of Darien represent an irregular migration corridor from South America through Central America to the United States.
This 266 km long, 575,000 hectares of natural border is fraught with dangers such as wildlife, rushing rivers and criminal gangs.
Despite the risks, more than 58,000 people have made the trip so far this year, according to Panamanian government data. In 2022, he had a record 248,000 immigrants.
Mainly Haitians, Venezuelans and Ecuadorians, but also Asians, mostly from China and India, and especially Africans from Cameroon and Somalia.
Some people die in the jungle, but the number is unknown because the authorities don’t know the real numbers because the land is difficult to access, there are no complaints and the bodies are abandoned which are sometimes eaten by animals. is.
“Last year we recorded 52, but the number should be higher,” Pachar says.
“There is uncertainty about the exact number of migrants who died along the route, as it all depends on the information we get from migrants who manage to survive,” says Chau.