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Panama: Refugee from Colombia lives with hope

Many children of Colombian refugees participate in the theatre group organised by Jesuit Refugee Service in Panama. (JRS Panama)
Tuesday, November 19, 2013

(Panama City) November 19, 2013 – "Today, I can say I live in peace in Panama City; we don't have much, but I'm no longer scared. I go to school, I belong to a drama group; mom and dad both have jobs; and I have friends both at school and in my neighborhood. We're refugees. Mum's happy now. She hopes with the new migration law we'll get permanent residency."

This story told by Julián, a 14-year old Colombian refugee, to the staff of Jesuit Refugee Service in Panama, is an excerpt of his family's harsh journey from the Colombian border to Panama City. While this happy ending is not common for refugees, it demonstrates that crossing borders is often the only life-saving possibility for people fleeing persecution.

Finding shelter and protection abroad remains a crucial necessity for refugees, and the presence of NGOs offers the displaced, especially children and young people, the space to begin dreaming once again, to tell stories, sing songs and express their dreams through theatre.

I want to have a happy life in a place where there is peace and harmony.

Hi! I'm going to tell you my story that begins in a place called Acandí, a town close to the border with Panama. I used to live on a farm with many cows and horses, and a very playful dog.

One day some men in green, or rather dressed in green, came to my home. There were a lot of armed men looking for a fight. They told us to leave the farm as they needed it to fight the army.

We had to leave our fun farm, because they told us we had to; and there, you must obey; if anyone fails to comply, they kill him.

They told us the only way to be safe would be by crossing the border, because if we fled across the sea, they would have killed us.

I want to have a happy life in a place where there is peace and harmony. This is why my family and I had to go to Panama through the jungle. We started our journey of survival by climbing the Páramo.

On the way, mom and dad were stung by bees and got ill. So we had to stop and spend the night on a cold dirty floor where we could have caught many diseases. 

At around midnight, as we put out our campfire, a very large panther intent on attacking us appeared; but mom lit the fire again scaring him away. That night, my brothers and I couldn't sleep. We were so scared. Finally dawn came and we continued our journey to Panama.

Testimony written by Julian for JRS Panama

* Name has been changed for security reasons.

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