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Cross-border Assistance and Protection for Populations in Transit through the Darién Gap (Colombia and Panama) and the Costa Rican Borders

GCM Objectives

GCM Guiding Principles*

*All practices are to uphold the ten guiding principles of the GCM. This practice particularly exemplifies these listed principles.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Dates

2022 - 2024

Type of practice

Project/Programme

Geographic Scope

Regions:

Local:

Darién Gap (Colombia and Panama) and border areas of Costa Rica

Summary

In recent years, displacement and mobility in South and Central America have massively increased due to severe climate events, insecurity, conflict, and economic collapse. Many people journeying from South America northwards make their way through the Darién Gap, an unforgiving strip of jungle that forms a natural border separating Colombia and Panama, where there are no modern roads or infrastructure. A thick jungle lacking roads and other modern infrastructure, the Darién Gap poses significant environmental risks and the risk of getting lost or going missing. Protection risks in this area abound, and many migrants have reported exposure to robbery, physical violence, threats, extortion, and sexual violence. HIAS operates a cross-border protection and GBV programme supporting migrants along the Darién in Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica. The initiative began with teams in Neclocí, Colombia, a starting point for migrants entering the Darién Gap from the Colombian side. Teams were also deployed in Gualaca district in Panama, and in Costa Rica teams were available in the Southern and Northern border. HIAS’ protection program seeks to alleviate suffering of migrants and prevent loss of life, through providing protection and GBV services. Legal protection activities emphasise provision of essential information on the context, on protection risks, and on how migrants can access legal asylum and migration pathways. The programme also provides GBV services cross-border, including case management so survivors can access services throughout their journey. GBV activities include provision of dignity kits, safe spaces for women, and access to clinical care following sexual violence. It also offers safe spaces for young children and adolescents. HIAS is additionally conscious of how intersecting identities, such as being LGBTQI+ or living with a disability, may also impact migrants’ vulnerability to violence as well as their ability to access services and information along the migration route. Moreover, HIAS offers mental health and psychosocial support to individuals (psychological first aid and activities organised within safe spaces). HIAS has two curricula, one for use with women and adolescents in transit, and another for women and adolescents remaining in place. Given the programme’s protection focus, HIAS targets those that are most vulnerable to protection violations and GBV, specifically women and adolescent girls in the case of GBV, and children and adolescents. Finally, HIAS also conducts protection monitoring, collecting data on protection risks faced by migrants which is analysed for evidence-based advocacy. The initial financing for the activities was provided internally with HIAS Emergency Funds. Shortly after, AECID was the first donor to fund this project. The activities have since been supplemented by funds from the Hilton Foundation and UNHCR, enabling HIAS to expand the geographic coverage to Honduras.

HIAS takes part in key coordination bodies in each country of operation: in Uruba, Colombia, it takes part in the Interagency Group on Mixed Migration Flows (Grupo Interagencial Sobre Flujos Migratorios Mixtos), within the framework of the R4V platform, as well as with the relevant authorities. In Panama, HIAS participates in various coordination groups, including the gender-based violence (GBV) and protection groups. In Panama and Costa Rica, HIAS has established standard operating procedures.

Collaborators

Main Implementer

HIAS

Other Organizations

HIAS

Benefit and Impact

Through its cross-border work in 2022-2023, HIAS has provided aid and protection to more than 9000 people in transit in the Darién Gap, reaching women, men, adolescents, and children and exceeding the targets it had anticipated. HIAS views its activities as lifesaving in several important ways. Firstly, HIAS’ emphasis on providing essential information to migrants around the context of the migration routes, protection risks they might encounter, and potential legal pathways to migration and seeking asylum is seen as essential to prevent migrants from falling into situations of severe distress (and potential death). As HIAS has noted that disinformation is common and dangerous to migrants, providing information to current and prospective migrants enables them to make more informed decisions and to mitigate risks during their journey. Secondly, GBV risk mitigation and response is essential to survivors, and clinical care provided to survivors of sexual violence (including post-exposure prophylaxis) is lifesaving in that it can prevent infections and promote recovery. In order to refer survivors of sexual violence to clinical care, HIAS coordinates with Médecins Sans Frontières, the Red Cross, and the Panamanian health services. Thirdly, providing psychosocial support to people primarily through psychological first aid and safe spaces for women, children, and youth enables people on the move to access rapid support and cope with the extraordinary stresses of the journey.

Key Lessons

With cross-border migration work, challenges abound in extending care to migrants. As with many interventions, the lack of flexible funding mechanisms and reduced funding in the region makes the ability to pivot a response in line with contextual changes and needs difficult. Key informants from HIAS interviewed for this practice also shared that duplication in coordination mechanisms is a major challenge in Latin America: there are local mechanisms, regional mechanisms such as the R4V platform, OCHA, mechanisms that are exclusively for UN, NGO, and authorities. Participating in all these mechanisms is time-consuming and can take attention from work, and adds another layer of complexity to responding to the needs of migrants.

Recommendations(if the practice is to be replicated)

HIAS notes the importance of a regional approach that emphasises cross-border coordination and collaboration between teams, while simultaneously ensuring relevant contextualization of activities in each country as the operational environment and the relationship with the authorities differs in each context. In order for cross-border protection activities to be effective, HIAS recommends that teams be deployed at borders in all countries covered. In this sense, HIAS stresses the importance of information and context analysis in order to better plan its activities and improve their effectiveness. These teams must understand and be able to communicate clearly data protection laws in all countries in which the project operates. The teams must also be closely connected and coordinate with one another in order to communicate on cross-border cases, which are especially challenging due, in part, to different data protection laws in each country. Establishing cross-border SOP and protocols are therefore necessary for provision of services along the route.

Innovation

HIAS has taken steps to adapt standard programmatic responses in legal protection, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), and GBV to populations on the move. This has proven challenging given that traditional approaches to GBV response activities such as case management require that populations remain static for the period of service provision. Additionally, conducting protection monitoring--while not a new intervention in and of itself--has enabled HIAS to better plan their response and communicate protection trends with other partners in a rapidly evolving environment.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, border closures made travel difficult and there were particular challenges with cross-border GBV cases, for example when a GBV survivor needed to cross into another country but was unable due to border closures. During this time, it was also difficult for teams to move easily and offer services to migrants. Consequently, HIAS has adopted some approaches to be done remotely in instances where they do not have physical presence such as in the Caribbean islands. These services include remote vulnerability screenings, and carrying out group and individual MHPSS activities remotely. According to key informants from HIAS, the practice is replicable. Before this project HIAS had the experience of another cross-border project in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. This demonstrates that the practice can be replicated in other places adapting guidelines and protocols to other situations and contexts.

Date submitted:

28 September 2023

Disclaimer: The content of this practice reflects the views of the implementers and does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations, the United Nations Network on Migration, and its members.

 

 

Cross-border Assistance and Protection for Populations in Transit through the Darién Gap (Colombia and Panama) and the Costa Rican Borders

GCM Objectives

Dates:

2022 - 2024

Type of practice:

Project/Programme

Geographic Scope

Regions:

Local:

Darién Gap (Colombia and Panama) and border areas of Costa Rica

Summary

In recent years, displacement and mobility in South and Central America have massively increased due to severe climate events, insecurity, conflict, and economic collapse. Many people journeying from South America northwards make their way through the Darién Gap, an unforgiving strip of jungle that forms a natural border separating Colombia and Panama, where there are no modern roads or infrastructure. A thick jungle lacking roads and other modern infrastructure, the Darién Gap poses significant environmental risks and the risk of getting lost or going missing. Protection risks in this area abound, and many migrants have reported exposure to robbery, physical violence, threats, extortion, and sexual violence. HIAS operates a cross-border protection and GBV programme supporting migrants along the Darién in Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica. The initiative began with teams in Neclocí, Colombia, a starting point for migrants entering the Darién Gap from the Colombian side. Teams were also deployed in Gualaca district in Panama, and in Costa Rica teams were available in the Southern and Northern border. HIAS’ protection program seeks to alleviate suffering of migrants and prevent loss of life, through providing protection and GBV services. Legal protection activities emphasise provision of essential information on the context, on protection risks, and on how migrants can access legal asylum and migration pathways. The programme also provides GBV services cross-border, including case management so survivors can access services throughout their journey. GBV activities include provision of dignity kits, safe spaces for women, and access to clinical care following sexual violence. It also offers safe spaces for young children and adolescents. HIAS is additionally conscious of how intersecting identities, such as being LGBTQI+ or living with a disability, may also impact migrants’ vulnerability to violence as well as their ability to access services and information along the migration route. Moreover, HIAS offers mental health and psychosocial support to individuals (psychological first aid and activities organised within safe spaces). HIAS has two curricula, one for use with women and adolescents in transit, and another for women and adolescents remaining in place. Given the programme’s protection focus, HIAS targets those that are most vulnerable to protection violations and GBV, specifically women and adolescent girls in the case of GBV, and children and adolescents. Finally, HIAS also conducts protection monitoring, collecting data on protection risks faced by migrants which is analysed for evidence-based advocacy. The initial financing for the activities was provided internally with HIAS Emergency Funds. Shortly after, AECID was the first donor to fund this project. The activities have since been supplemented by funds from the Hilton Foundation and UNHCR, enabling HIAS to expand the geographic coverage to Honduras.

HIAS takes part in key coordination bodies in each country of operation: in Uruba, Colombia, it takes part in the Interagency Group on Mixed Migration Flows (Grupo Interagencial Sobre Flujos Migratorios Mixtos), within the framework of the R4V platform, as well as with the relevant authorities. In Panama, HIAS participates in various coordination groups, including the gender-based violence (GBV) and protection groups. In Panama and Costa Rica, HIAS has established standard operating procedures.

Collaborators

Main Implementer:

HIAS

Other Organizations:

HIAS

Benefit and Impact

Through its cross-border work in 2022-2023, HIAS has provided aid and protection to more than 9000 people in transit in the Darién Gap, reaching women, men, adolescents, and children and exceeding the targets it had anticipated. HIAS views its activities as lifesaving in several important ways. Firstly, HIAS’ emphasis on providing essential information to migrants around the context of the migration routes, protection risks they might encounter, and potential legal pathways to migration and seeking asylum is seen as essential to prevent migrants from falling into situations of severe distress (and potential death). As HIAS has noted that disinformation is common and dangerous to migrants, providing information to current and prospective migrants enables them to make more informed decisions and to mitigate risks during their journey. Secondly, GBV risk mitigation and response is essential to survivors, and clinical care provided to survivors of sexual violence (including post-exposure prophylaxis) is lifesaving in that it can prevent infections and promote recovery. In order to refer survivors of sexual violence to clinical care, HIAS coordinates with Médecins Sans Frontières, the Red Cross, and the Panamanian health services. Thirdly, providing psychosocial support to people primarily through psychological first aid and safe spaces for women, children, and youth enables people on the move to access rapid support and cope with the extraordinary stresses of the journey.

Key Lessons

With cross-border migration work, challenges abound in extending care to migrants. As with many interventions, the lack of flexible funding mechanisms and reduced funding in the region makes the ability to pivot a response in line with contextual changes and needs difficult. Key informants from HIAS interviewed for this practice also shared that duplication in coordination mechanisms is a major challenge in Latin America: there are local mechanisms, regional mechanisms such as the R4V platform, OCHA, mechanisms that are exclusively for UN, NGO, and authorities. Participating in all these mechanisms is time-consuming and can take attention from work, and adds another layer of complexity to responding to the needs of migrants.

Recommendations(if the practice is to be replicated)

HIAS notes the importance of a regional approach that emphasises cross-border coordination and collaboration between teams, while simultaneously ensuring relevant contextualization of activities in each country as the operational environment and the relationship with the authorities differs in each context. In order for cross-border protection activities to be effective, HIAS recommends that teams be deployed at borders in all countries covered. In this sense, HIAS stresses the importance of information and context analysis in order to better plan its activities and improve their effectiveness. These teams must understand and be able to communicate clearly data protection laws in all countries in which the project operates. The teams must also be closely connected and coordinate with one another in order to communicate on cross-border cases, which are especially challenging due, in part, to different data protection laws in each country. Establishing cross-border SOP and protocols are therefore necessary for provision of services along the route.

GCM Guiding Principles*

*All practices are to uphold the ten guiding principles of the GCM. This practice particularly exemplifies these listed principles.

Innovation

HIAS has taken steps to adapt standard programmatic responses in legal protection, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), and GBV to populations on the move. This has proven challenging given that traditional approaches to GBV response activities such as case management require that populations remain static for the period of service provision. Additionally, conducting protection monitoring--while not a new intervention in and of itself--has enabled HIAS to better plan their response and communicate protection trends with other partners in a rapidly evolving environment.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, border closures made travel difficult and there were particular challenges with cross-border GBV cases, for example when a GBV survivor needed to cross into another country but was unable due to border closures. During this time, it was also difficult for teams to move easily and offer services to migrants. Consequently, HIAS has adopted some approaches to be done remotely in instances where they do not have physical presence such as in the Caribbean islands. These services include remote vulnerability screenings, and carrying out group and individual MHPSS activities remotely. According to key informants from HIAS, the practice is replicable. Before this project HIAS had the experience of another cross-border project in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. This demonstrates that the practice can be replicated in other places adapting guidelines and protocols to other situations and contexts.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Date submitted:

28 September 2023

Disclaimer: The content of this practice reflects the views of the implementers and does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations, the United Nations Network on Migration, and its members.

 

 

*References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).