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  • Context (DTE I TG): Panama has ordered Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to stop treating people who have crossed the Darien Gap.

Darien Gap - PMF IAS

  • Darien Gap is one of the world’s most dangerous and fastest-growing border crossings.
  • In recent weeks, much of the discussion over illegal immigration to US has focused on Darien Gap.
  • This route spans parts of Central and South America, and an increasing number of people are attempting to pass on their way to the US to claim asylum.

About Darien Gap

  • It is a geographic region in the Isthmus of Darién or Isthmus of Panama, which connects the American continents within Central America.
  • It sits on the border between Panama and Colombia.
  • It consists of a large watershed, forest, and mountains.
  • The Darien Gap is home to the Embera-Wounaan and Guna people and was also home to the Cueva people, who became extinct by 1535 following the Spanish invasion of Panama.
  • There is no paved road in the Darien Gap. Despite this, it has become a significant route for global human migration.
    • Prior to 2021, 10,000 people annually took this route on their way north to seek residence in the United States and Canada.
    • Then, in 2021, the Panamanian government documented 133,000 crossings, a dramatic increase in human movement in such a volatile stretch of land.
    • In 2023, more than half a million people transited through this part of the Isthmus of Panama.
  • It is a stretch of mountainous jungle 160km long and 50km wide and is controlled by criminal groups known for acts of violence, including sexual abuse and robbery.
  • Crossing this stretch of land without the help of a smuggler or guide is impossible because the criminal organisations that control the territory demand payment for passage.
  • The Missing Migrant Project reported 141 known deaths in the Darien Gap in 2023.
  • Darien Gap is a part of the Donkey Route to the USA.

What is Donkey Route?

The Donkey Route - PMF IAS

  • The “donkey route” to the United States involves migrants travelling through Latin American countries to reach the US border.
  • The journey often starts in countries like Ecuador, Bolivia, or Guyana, where Indian citizens can obtain visas quickly.
  • The route includes crossing the Darién Gap, a forested area between Colombia and Panama, facing risks such as lack of clean water, wildlife, and criminal gangs.
  • From Panama, migrants are often routed through Guatemala to enter Mexico and eventually reach the US border, facing challenges like jumping fences and crossing the Rio Grande River.
  • The journey is expensive, ranging from Rs 15 lakh to Rs 70 lakh, and involves coordination with human trafficking networks.


  • This is a hot, humid area typified by tropical rainforests, mangrove swamps, and low mountain ranges with cloud forest vegetation.
  • The Pan-American Highway does not traverse Darien, which effectively blocks land transportation between Central and South America.

Pan-American Highway

Pan-American Highway - PMF IAS

  • The Pan-American Highway is a system of roads measuring about 30,000 km in length.
  • It runs north–south through the entirety of North, Central and South America.
  • There is a sole exception of a 106 km (66 mi) stretch of marshland and mountains between Panama and Colombia known as the Darién Gap.

National Parks

  • A pair of contiguous parks—Darién National Park in Panama and Los Katios National Park in Colombia—administer a large part of the region.
  • The Darien National Park and Biosphere has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981.
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