A plasticized card with as little information as possible about migrants who have died crossing dangerous sections of their journey to the United States is buried in a cemetery in Panama’s Darien Province.

Recent afternoon saw white-suited workers lay to rest 15 sets in a trench at the back cemetery. The simple ceremony was performed by a local priest who stood at the trench’s head with a candle and crucifix, as well as flowers. Handwritten clues were found on the white body bags: “Unknown, Bajo Grande,” and “Unknown, Turquesa river.”

Panama has so far recovered at most 50 sets from migrants who crossed the Darien Gap. Officials believe this is just a fraction of the people who died in the dense and lawless jungle. In the past, between 20 and 30 bodies have been found annually. However, Panamanian authorities claim that more than 90,000. Migrants from Colombia have crossed the Darien Gap this year, with the body count reflecting the accelerating migration.

Jose Vicente Pachar (director of Panama’s Forensic Sciences Institute) stated that this number represents the minimum amount of human remains along the entire route. Many of them die from natural causes such as heart attacks or falls, and no one tends to them. They either stay there, or they are attacked or the water’s current takes their bodies and leaves them floating at the river’s edge. Snake bites are also quite common.

Pachar stated that “right now we don’t have a means to investigate like it is with international support, and to go on the tracks, the paths, because all of the descriptions (say) there are still human remains,”

The Panama National Border Service agents help to recover bodies and sometimes extract them with helicopters with the assistance of investigators from Darien’s prosecutor’s office.

Investigators face many challenges, but recovery is not the only one.

Many times, the bodies are partially or completely eaten by animals. Some migrants may have witnessed the death but they don’t know how to help with identifications. Many of the bodies have no identification because it was stolen or lost.

Julio Vergara is the top prosecutor in Darien. He stated that although migrants may report a death, when we recover the facts and verify the facts, it was clear that the migrants who reported it had continued their journey. Four victims were children.

The majority of the 15,000 migrants who stayed for days in Del Rio (Texas) last month near a border bridge were Haitians. The U.S. has sent thousands of them to Haiti.

The majority of identification work in Panama is done by Pachar’s personnel at the Panama City morgue.

They take the victim’s fingerprints and create dental records to try to determine the cause of death. All that information is then entered into a database.

Pachar stated that “it is a laborious task because most of the bodies are in a puttingfaction stage, many individual traits have been lost.”

After a similar ceremony at the same cemetery weeks before, 15 victims were buried in Agua Fria. Six sets of remains were interred in that case.

Pachar stated that the burials were necessary for both respect and to allow for new victims.

Pachar stated that if someone later comes and wants to take the remains, there is a way to tell them: “Here they are.”

Vergara stated that a family claimed the body of a Cuban immigrant, and relatives of another non Latin American migrant confirmed his identity. The person could then be buried in Panama in accordance with the family’s religious and customs.

Vergara claimed that a Haitian woman delivered a fetus in a bag to authorities, making it one of the latest burials. The prosecutor stated that she claimed she miscarried after she fell while crossing.

At least half-a dozen other communities in Darien have seen migrant bodies buried there. Some Indigenous communities have reacted negatively to the burials, as they don’t want migrants buried in their own cemeteries. Agua Fria had also been affected by the rumours, so a leader in the community asked Rev. Delgado Diamante performed the burial ceremony and addressed the matter during his homily at Mass at the local parish.

More than 800 migrants, mostly Haitian, walked down the pot-holed road that leads into Darien the day after the burials. They joined 300 others who were already in a migrant camp and got off the boats in the Chucunaque River, which had taken them out of the jungle. Many boarded buses from the government that would transport them across Panama to reach a camp close to Costa Rica.

Iseris Shily (a 34-year old Haitian woman) was still shaken by the events at Darien Gap. Siberisse Evanette, his wife, had been to Chile in 2017, and they left this year to try to reach the United States.

Shily claimed that his wife suffered a miscarriage at the crossing. He was admitted to hospital Friday with bleeding.

He said, “She almost died.” “We spent six days in the jungle without water and food because everything we brought was gone.”

He claimed that they were robbed as they approached the first town. Then, he was threatened with death by those who said he couldn’t pay and wouldn’t be able to pass. “I don’t have the money to go on my journey anymore.”

Before entering the jungle, Shily had called his relatives in the U.S. He called his family in the U.S. to let them know he had made it. However, his phone was dead.

“I can remember many things.” Shily stated that she didn’t want Shily to speak about it. “I saw six people die in the river in front of me. This is a terrible tragedy. This is not an adventure that I would like to live again.”