"Warriors"repeat the mothers, warrior sons who have endured long walks, hunger, thirst, heat, insect bites, overcoming rivers and hills, to survive the Darien jungle on their way to the United States.
Fresh out of this jungle that forms the natural border between Colombia and Panama, the migrants arrive at what is known as Quebrada del León, where indigenous canoes await them that will descend them through the almost dry Tuquesa River to Bajo Chiquito, a small Emberá town where they will be able to rest.
"My two sons, totally warriors, have endured rain, cold, sun, they have slept on stones, outdoors, in the jungle… we have gone through all the risks in the world"Venezuelan Daiana Ruiz told EFE while queuing to get on a canoe.
At her side is her husband, who has been carrying the daughter. "So many scales, so many precipices, rivers to cross, and he was the one who brought me the girl"explains Ruiz, who left Venezuela, he says, to be able to give his children a future, a good education.
The mother is tired, and outraged. In the jungle, like the rest of the group, they were robbed by some hooded uniformed men. "They pointed guns at the children and took all the money we had. They didn’t want papers, bags, they didn’t want anything, what they wanted was money, nothing more. Where they checked and someone had money that he had not delivered, they left it there with them".
They also robbed the group of the Venezuelan Jessenia Pérez, 30, who is traveling with ten children, including children and nephews.
The young woman thinks of other migrants who will try to cross the jungle like them, and gives them a recommendation that other newcomers repeat: "If you come in large groups, don’t stay behind, because those who go behind suffer the worst, robbery and everything.".
But if you travel with children you go slower, and the dangers multiply. "The most difficult thing was one of the hills that we climbed, where we were about to lose our lives". There they had to gradually pass each one of the little ones, carefully, slowly.
"So you are left alone and it is more risky to stay with a small group. We hear screams, we hear everything at night when we camp. The experience is quite ugly, I really do not recommend anyone to come through the jungle"says the mother.
EXODUS FROM SOUTH AMERICA
But the exodus does not stop, with migrant families with children who continue to cross the Darien jungle, more and more.
According to data from the Panamanian authorities compiled by UNICEF, of the 45,727 people who crossed the Darién between January and February 2023, 9,656 were children, which is seven times the number registered in the same period of the previous year.
"The flow has increased significantly, with last year ending at 248,000 migrants in total, of these 40,000 were children and adolescents. This year what we are seeing is a much higher increase than last year"Margarita Sánchez, UNICEF emergency child protection officer, told EFE.
The Colombian aid worker is in San Vicente, one of the immigration reception centers that the Panamanian authorities set up in the south of the country to care for migrants before sending them by bus to the north, to the border with Costa Rica.
There, Unicef provides health care to both children and mothers, and has a friendly space where they try through games or dances to make the little ones "be children again".
"Boys and girls have to cross a jungle where they see things that they should not see at a young age, they are exposed to many risks (…) What we identify are children with many emotional and psychological affectations. They are afraid, there is a theme of not wanting to get away from their parents, there is a theme of sadness too"explains Sánchez, in addition to identifying, he adds, respiratory symptoms, diarrhea, vomiting, or skin infections.
DON’T GET SICK
After leaving the jungle, waiting for a canoe in which, fortunately, children under 10 do not pay the required 20 dollars per passenger, the Venezuelan Jennaly Pérez gives medicine drops to her son, who resists. She has a fever, but it doesn’t go down, it doesn’t give in, her mother assures with the little one in her arms.
"Children get sick from mosquitoes, there are many mosquitoes, mosquitoes bite them, and they get sick. Besides, if they drink water from the river they also get sick because it has many deaths"he explains to EFE.
The Venezuelan Ana Rodríguez is also with her baby in her arms, who is sleeping. During the jungle she carried him "A bit" her, another her husband, a friend. "There are people who help you, just as there are people who don’t have the strength to help you.".
"Here there are pregnant women, children, but it is not easy, what is lived inside is not easy. Nothing more when night falls, the expectation that your children will not get sick, because they get wet. That one does not get sick, what one sees in there, closed tents with dead people inside. Many things are seen: crossing, hole, deep river, people drowning. It is an experience for a lifetime, for improvement, because it is the only way"affirms to EFE Rodríguez.
After three days crossing the jungle, Ecuadorian Luisa Rodríguez, 28, can’t take it anymore. She takes small steps as she crosses the river, her baby in her arms. She sighs. Next to her, her husband and two other children walk in silence.
"This jungle is terrible, terrible (…) It’s the ugliest, nobody is recommended to come here, much less with children, very ugly, very ugly, very ugly, they even robbed us on a stretch of the road, They took our money, everything. No more water, and drinking water from the river with the children, very terrible, my Lord"the anguished mother recalls to EFE.
But there they are, they made it, and now they just hope they can board one of the canoes to continue their journey north.
"Warriors, my warrior children, thank God we covered ourselves with the mantle of God, nothing happened to us".