Supporting Migrants in the Darien

Since 2021, the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) has been providing lifesaving humanitarian assistance and protection support to thousands of migrants who cross the Darien Gap, a dense stretch of jungle between Colombia and Panama, in search of better, safer lives.

The Darien Gap is one of the most dangerous migration routes in the world. During this journey, migrants face harsh and strenuous geographic conditions, are exposed to criminal groups, kidnapping, sexual and physical assault, and often develop ailments and injuries from insect bites, drinking nonpotable water, and exhaustion.


To address these needs and with the generous support of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, PADF works with its local partner, the Panamanian Red Cross, to provide comprehensive humanitarian assistance to vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers in government-established Migrant Reception Centers in the Darien and along the northern border with Costa Rica.

This includes primary health care services to tend to common wounds and ailments; psychological first aid to help migrants process and cope with traumatic experiences and stressors experienced along their journey or in their home countries; and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) activities to ensure that migrants have access to potable drinking water and are informed of sanitation best practices; and information on access to protection mechanisms; among other essential humanitarian support services. In Panama, PADF has reached more than 50,000 vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers with lifesaving services over the course of fiscal year 2022, including in the following sectors:


local government and health officials trained


hygiene kits distributed


beneficiaries received psychosocial support


people reached with primary health care assistance


people reached with shelter assistance

Costa Rica

Likewise, PADF has mobilized to attend to the humanitarian needs of migrants who have entered Costa Rica’s southern border after having traveled through the Darien. In the south of Costa Rica, PADF’s partner Hands for Health holds health fairs and works with host community leaders to better identify, prevent, and respond to common illnesses. PADF also partnered with the Red Cross to deliver food and other supplies to vulnerable migrants in border areas.

And in San Jose, PADF has contracted the services of health aides, who are stationed at bus terminals to provide primary health check-ups and administer medication as needed to new arrivals. PADF also works closely with Costa Rica’s Refugee Unit and Migration and Foreign Affairs Department to build local capacity to respond to growing migration flows, including by providing information on regularization pathways and addressing the backlog of refugee applications. Overall, PADF’s program has reached over 11,000 transit migrants who have entered Costa Rica from Panama. Beneficiaries of key humanitarian activities are highlighted below:


food and supply baskets distributed to vulnerable migrants


health officials trained


people provided with emergency health care assistance

Stories of Impact

Throughout the past year, PADF and local partners have been able to offer impactful interventions, and in the process, hear stories of great resilience and strength, solidarity, community-building, and deep gratitude. Some excerpts from these testimonials are included here.

Julissa and her family had been in the Migrant Reception Center for a few days. "Go speak to the psychologist with the blue vest," she told everyone. "It will make you feel better and give you the tools you need to continue on your way."

PADF psychologist provides support to migrants who crossed the Darien.

Lisa carried out much of her journey alone. In her mind, she was looking for a better life for herself and her family. But in the jungle between Panama and Colombia, she sank into a muddy put and thought she was going to die... She cried out for help and some young Venezuelans came and rescued her. They took care of her during the trip. She said that they told her that they also had a mother and that seeing all the effort she was making motivated them to continue.

Before leaving the Migrant Reception Center in the Darien, Lisa said goodbye to her psychologist. Days later, the PADF team was along the northern border between Panama and Costa Rica for a health fair. To the psychologist's amazement, he saw Lisa there. It took her a few moments, but when she saw "PADF" on a blue vest, she recognized him and, with tears in her eyes, she hugged him thanking him for all the support he gave her, and for making sure she never felt alone.

PADF psychologist provides support to migrants who crossed the Darien.

Published on December 17, 2022.


Profile of Migrants in Transit through Costa Rica

Carolina Brea

Carolina Brea

Migration Director


Daniel Arango

Daniel Arango

Program Director, Panama


Ivette Medina

Ivette Medina

Program Director, Costa Rica


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