Sources on human smuggling through South & Central America

Darien Gap

Chen Ying-yu, “‘We’re all fleeing persecution’: Chinese asylum-seekers head to US via Darién Gap”, Radio Free Asia, 26 December 2022, original URL:, archived at:

Near the jetty where the travelers will embark, the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration has set up a tent, while the local government has its own tent facing it. A third canopy provides shade to people waiting to board the next vessel to Panama, who hail from Afghanistan, India, Latin America, the Caribbean, and, more recently, from China.

A local government official in Necoclí who declined to be named said the number of Chinese nationals turning up in the small port has risen significantly since September.

“Most of the adults from China are adults aged 20 to 30, about 80 percent are men, but there are also some women,” the official says. “They are in a slightly better situation than some of the immigrants from other countries, as they have a little money.”

“They can afford to eat in restaurants, buy their own food and pay for their own transportation,” he says. “They usually leave in a few days without any help [from the authorities].”

He says that while many don’t have visas, the authorities prefer to turn a blind eye.

“The current attitude of the Colombian government is to respect the freedom of movement of immigrants,” the official says on condition of anonymity. “From a practical point of view, it is really too expensive to send them back.”

According to data from the Colombian Immigration Agency, 1,028 Chinese citizens entered Colombia from Ecuador through unofficial channels between January and November 2022, 485 of whom did so in November alone.

Nearly all of them pass through Necoclí, the jumping-off point for the notorious Darién Gap people-smuggling route through the jungle from Panama to Colombia, in a bid to cross eventually into the United States. 

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