“These videos have gone viral because people want to know how viable it is to flee,” says Jonathan Noguera, a Lima, Peru-based refugee and migrant rights activist.
Enderson Contreras checked the popular video app TikTok for information on the dangerous journey that lay ahead of him before embarking on a 45-day journey that began in Peru and ended in the United States.
Contreras had heard rumors about the dangers of the Darien Gap, a lawless 96km (60-mile) jungle passage between Panama and Colombia known for poisonous snakes, treacherous trails, paramilitary factions, and thieves.
But what he discovered online disappointed him. “The videos I watched at the time lacked information,” Contreras, a Venezuelan 25-year-old, told Al Jazeera. “That’s why I decided to create something to demonstrate what it’s like to cross the Darien.”
According to activists and researchers, social media sites and messaging platform WhatsApp have become important resources for refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers as they plan their journeys north to the United States.
These journeys have become more complicated as countries impose more restrictions, forcing refugees and migrants to take more informal routes.
With the Darien Gap becoming more popular — approximately 134,000 people crossed last year alone — firsthand accounts of the jungle, uploaded to TikTok, have received thousands, if not millions, of views. By September, the hashtag #darien had been viewed nearly 500 million times.