The first time I spoke with survivors of the Darién Gap – the notoriously lethal stretch of jungle on the border between Colombia and Panama – was in 2021 throughout my transient imprisonment in Siglo XXI, Mexico’s largest immigration detention centre, situated within the Mexican state of Chiapas near the border with Guatemala.
I used to be the one detainee who hailed from the United States – the very nation answerable for Mexico’s migration crackdown within the first place – and I had ended up in migrant jail purely on account of my very own stupidity and laziness in renewing my vacationer visa. My fellow inmates had been going through fairly extra existential predicaments, and lots of of them – from Haiti, Cuba, Bangladesh, and past – had been pressured to traverse the Darién Gap as they fled political and financial calamity within the hopes of finally discovering refuge within the US.
Within the partitions of Siglo XXI, the place goals of refuge had been indefinitely placed on maintain, the Darién was a recurring matter of dialog – a type of spontaneous train in group remedy, it appeared. Women recounted the quite a few cadavers that they had encountered throughout their journeys. Rape, it was clear, was rampant within the jungle – to the extent that even those that weren’t personally assaulted, had been vicariously traumatised.
Indeed, on this densest and most impenetrable of forests, sexual violence towards refuge seekers has change into institutionalised. This violence could also be perpetrated by native inhabitants, paramilitaries, or an array of legal actors whose actions are permitted to proceed with impunity within the normal context of criminalised migration.
In February of this yr, I travelled to Panama’s Darién area. I didn’t, after all, should danger my life or bodily integrity to take action – such being the obscene and arbitrary privilege conferred by the passport of the US, a rustic recognized for stirring up hassle worldwide after which militarising its borders towards anybody wishing to flee the mess.
In the city of Metetí in Darién province, I spoke with Tamara Guillermo, subject coordinator for Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF), who expressed horror on the “level of brutality” and excessive “viciousness” presently on show within the jungle – the place sexual aggression, together with towards males, remained par for the course.
According to Guillermo, there had been a latest uptick in reviews from individuals who had been held up by armed assailants within the Darién and compelled to take away all of their clothes for a guide inspection of bodily orifices, to make sure that nothing of worth had been tucked away. Often, the ladies had been then separated from the group and raped.
In Metetí, I additionally spoke with a younger Venezuelan lady – we’ll name her Alicia – whose two-year-old son threw a foam ball at me and pinched my nostril all through our dialog, in between being distracted by a cartoon about velociraptors.
Alicia had spent 10 days crossing the Darién, she instructed me, and each evening she had cried. She had not been raped, however she had heard about many rapes, and he or she had seen loads of demise – just like the hunched-over physique of an previous man underneath a tree who “looked like he was cold”. She had met a Haitian lady whose six-month-old child had simply drowned. She had been robbed of her pet after which of all valuables that weren’t hidden in her son’s diapers when a bunch of 10 hooded males descended upon her group.
In Spanish, the verb “violar” can imply both “to violate” – as in human rights – or “to rape”. And whereas Alicia might not have been bodily violated within the latter sense, the DariénGap just about qualifies as one steady violation.
But the Darién Gap shouldn’t be the one trajectory the place refuge seekers should endure the brutal and infrequently sexual violation of their dignity. Worldwide, we people have demonstrated a sadistic knack for exploiting weak folks on the move – folks whose standing as “migrants” normally has a lot to do with the truth that they’ve already suffered tremendously in life.
Take Libya, a main level of departure for Europe-bound refugees fleeing warfare and financial distress, which has performed host to all method of rape, slavery, and torture -including of refuge-seeking youngsters. Try because the West would possibly to pin duty for the entire sinister association on the ever-handy fantasy of African savagery, the truth is that the blame lies proper on the foot of Fortress Europe.
Meanwhile, in northern Mexico, bipartisan xenophobic US coverage has positioned numerous asylum seekers instantly into the arms of rapists and kidnappers. And on the island of Nauru, the positioning of Australia’s most well-liked offshore asylum “processing” centre, a 2020 report collectively revealed by the Refugee Council of Australia and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre famous: “For years, there have been tragic accounts of rape and sexual abuse of females in Nauru, including by those paid to protect them”.
Speaking of supposed “protection”, Panamanian authorities have now come underneath hearth concerning allegations of sexual and different abuse at migrant reception centres in Darién province. Forgive me my pessimism on the prospects for justice.
During my keep within the Darién area, I additionally spoke with Marilen Osinalde, the psychological well being supervisor for MSF in Metetí, who commonly attends to sufferers who’ve suffered sexual and different violence. She remarked to me that, whereas there’s a persistent Western stereotype of rapists as “psychopaths who grab you in the street in the night”, the phenomenon is fairly extra complicated.
In the case of the Darién Gap and different migrant trajectories, she defined, the panorama of sexual aggression towards folks crossing it has to do with asserting energy, standing, and impunity – in addition to with marking territory. The use of rape as a “weapon” within the Darién additionally objectifies and dehumanises the migrant “Other”, she stated, additional solidifying energy constructions.
Zoom out from the Darién, and we discover ourselves in a world of borders that dehumanise and criminalise refuge seekers and different have-nots, all within the curiosity of marking territory and reinforcing energy constructions. The US penetrates worldwide borders at will whereas fortifying its personal – and converts areas just like the Darién Gap into bodily and psychological weapons.
From Panama to Libya to Nauru, a warfare is being waged towards people who find themselves disadvantaged not solely of the proper to cross borders but in addition of the proper to regulate the very boundaries of their our bodies. And that could be a violation of humanity certainly.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.