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Colombia/Panama: a Red Cross message crosses the Darién forest

09-05-2008 Feature

Liris Copete and her mother Roquelina Córdoba had to flee Colombia and take refuge in Punusa, in the Panamanian province of Darién, on account of constant clashes in the area where they lived. In 2004, they again had to move in search of safety.


ICRC and Red Cross Society of Panama personnel during a medical visit to a village in Darién, Panama. 
    Liris was 20 at the time and had two children. During the move, she became separated from her mother. Liris settled permanently in Boca de Cupe, another village in Darién. From that point onwards, she received no further news of her mother.

The Darién region, on the border with Colombia, is a forested region with a very inhospitable climate, and access is difficult. There are few roads. Indeed, this is the only point at which the Pan-American highway (which crosses the continent from north to south) is interrupted. As a result, both the mainly indigenous residential population and the Colombian refugees are isolated and vulnerable.

  •   The armed conflict in Colombia has forced thousands of people to abandon their homes in fear of their lives. Some move to other parts of Colombia, joining one of the largest internally displaced populations in the world. Others cross international borders and become refugees.

  • The ICRC is working with the Red Cross Society of Panama to buy medicines and tools. The organization is also helping people who have taken refuge in Darién to maintain or re-establish contact with relatives in Colombia.
The ICRC and the Red Cross Society of Panama make medical and health visits to help the communities of the region.
Only when an ICRC/Red Cross Society of Panama medical team arrived in Boca de Cupe could Liris ask an ICRC delegate to look for her mother. In her Red Cross message, she wrote: “Dear Mum, Me and the children are well. If you’re OK, please come back to Panama …”
The message reached the ICRC regional delegation in Mexico, which coordinates activities in Central America and the Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean. As it was highly likely that Roquelina had gone back to Colombia, the information was also passed on to the ICRC’s delegation there.
The search led to the Colombian village of Cacarica in Chocó, very close to the Panamanian border. When Roquelina was finally located, she was given the Red Cross message that Liris had written months before.
Roquelina burst into tears when she received the message from her daughter, and immediately called the phone number it contained. Eventually, she decided to stay in Colombia, but now she knows where her daughter is living, and they keep in touch by phone.