Host community in Darién trained to prevent Migrant Smuggling

A training on Migrant Smuggling and Identification of Vulnerability Profiles with a Gender Approach took place in Bajo Chiquito, Emberá-Wounaan region, with the aim of sensitizing members of the indigenous community to actively participate in the fight against migrant smuggling and promote a more informed, effective and empowered local response.

Promoted by the Western Hemisphere Program, which is implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) with funding from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the U.S. Department of State, the training session held on April 15, 2024, brought together more than 45 community members who received effective tools that will allow them to accurately identify specific vulnerability profiles and develop practical strategies for the prevention and addressing of migrant smuggling, considering the needs and perspectives of gender in indigenous communities in the Darién region.

Every day, the 519 inhabitants of Bajo Chiquito, one of the first Panamanian villages following the dangerous Darién jungle, receive on the banks of the Tuquesa river thousands of migrants in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and protection. As in all impoverished border regions with limited employment opportunities, activities associated to migrant smuggling have a significant impact on indigenous communities by replacing their traditional means of livelihood.

For Esmeralda Dumasá, a Nocó or traditional leader, "the migratory flow has considerably impacted the dynamics of the population of Bajo Chiquito, from demographics to social and family relationships."

"Women and girls may find themselves in particular vulnerable situations within migratory flows, as they are at greater risk of gender-based violence or becoming victims of other crimes such as trafficking in persons," added Shellah Franceschi, IOM Protection Officer in Panama.

The training session had a participatory approach focused on dialogue and collaboration, seeking to strengthen local capacities in a sustainable way. Through theoretical sessions, practical exercises, and group discussions, it was possible to identify strengths, opportunities, and weaknesses related to the fight against migrant smuggling faced by the community. In addition, the exchange of experiences and knowledge among the participants was encouraged, as well as the development of practical skills for the application of the concepts learned in their specific contexts.

Edith Núñez, legal advisor and coordinator in charge of the Comprehensive Care Centre of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Darién, highlighted the importance of educating about co-responsibility in terms of domestic chores as a measure to prevent gender-based violence in more traditional communities. For his part, Aramis Villarreal, Deputy

Prosecutor of the Prosecutor's Office against Organized Crime, explained that, in addition to having a role in the repression of crimes, the Office of the Attorney General also has a responsibility to teach in spaces like this to prevent the risks associated with migrant smuggling and trafficking in persons.

In support of its Member States to more effectively address the challenges of migration and border management, as well as to better inform decision-making on migration, IOM publishes numerous documents and tools such as the study on the Profiles and Modes of Operation of Facilitators of Migrant Smuggling in Central America, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, published in 2024 together with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The implementation of efficient migration and border governance policies and mechanisms facilitates better management of movements across borders, prevents irregular migration, contributes to the dismantling of organized crime networks, and protects the rights of migrants.

"Criminal groups take advantage of irregular migration as a source of income, while migrants suffer abuse and coercion due to misinformation and ignorance of the risks involved in using these means. Together with the Office of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Women's Affairs, IOM seeks through these activities to strengthen the response of host communities to the threat of activities related to migrant smuggling," concluded Rina Castillo, Immigration and Border Governance (IBG) Project Associate.

For more information, contact IOM Panama's communications team at

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