The area know as the Darien Gap is a dangerous stretch of rainforest along the southern border of Panama. This region of dense tropical jungle, over 100 miles in length, between Panama and Colombia is home to numerous natural hazards, including venomous snakes, jaguars, mosquitoes carrying deadly diseases, and treacherous swamps and rivers. The area is also known for dangerous armed groups who take advantage of desperate migrants trying to cross the gap and continue north. There are no roads or infrastructure connecting the “gap” between North and South America. Still, even with all of the life-threatening obstacles, people continue to travel through the Darien gap on foot in hopes of a better life.
At the same time, once migrants have crossed the Darien Gap, they still face a long journey through Panama and onto their next destinations. To control the migration flow in the country, the Panamanian government has established Migratory Receiving Stations (MRS) across both borders. These stations are used by the government, the Catholic Church, and several international agencies to provide immediate support to migrants. Two international Jesuit networks overlap in Panama in a shared effort to respond to this migratory injustice: The International Federation of Fe y Alegría and the Jesuit Network with Migrants of Latin Americas and the Caribbean (RJM-LAC). The shared efforts of these two networks provide resources for direct action and support for migrants moving through the region but also connects these efforts with global initiatives that collect information on migrant flows and human rights issues. Fe y Alegría Panama’s four-person team, based in Panama City, provides programs and assistance in the capital city, as well as in the MRS stations located in San Vicente and Lajas Blancas in Meteti (Darien Province) and in Los Planes and Paso Canoas in Gualaca, (Chiriqui Province).
What are Fe y Alegría and the Jesuits doing to accompany migrants in Panama?
The Fe y Alegría Panama team is made up of four staff members. The team is led by Fr. Marco Tulio Gómez, SJ, who serves as the national director. Working with Fr. Gómez is a Service to Migrants Coordinator, a Legal Assistance Coordinator, and a Social Psychologist, who travels from Panama City to the border areas in Darien and Chiriquí. These trips can range from anywhere to 300 to 650 miles round trip. To ensure this work is effective, the Fe y Alegría Panama staff needs two functioning vehicles, which will allow the team to travel from Panama City to the border regions.
Simply put, Fe y Alegría Panama was in desperate need of a new capable vehicle that would allow them to access the Migratory Receiving Stations in the Darien gap and in the Chiriqui Province to the north to provide services and accompaniment to migrants. The humanitarian aid, psychosocial assistance, and training on human and migration rights that the team provides are only possible with reliable transportation.
The purchase of this vehicle is part of a larger project with funds raised through RJM-LAC to support the migrant population who are in transit or are asylum seekers in Panama. This larger project began in February 2022 and continues in 2023.
Originally, Fe y Alegría Panama had two vehicles, however one of them, a 2005 Nissan Frontier, was damaged beyond repair. The loss of this vehicle is limiting transportation of the project team to the border provinces. Fe y Alegría Panama identified a used 2020 Toyota Hilux with low mileage to replace the 2005 Nissan Frontier.
“We know that God works with the poor and walks with the migrants as well. We are certain that migrants are a theological place as well. God finds ways to help them, to keep their hope alive.”
Fr. Marco Tulio Gomez, S.J. General Director of Fe y Alegría Panamá