Panama sees record number of migrants crossing treacherous Darien Gap


PANAMA CITY, July 28 (Reuters) – A record 42,000 migrants bound for North America entered Panama this year through the dangerous jungle area known as Darien Gap, Panamanian authorities said on Wednesday. , warning that their numbers would likely increase as borders open.

Each year, scores of migrants perish during the grueling six-day trek through the Darien Gap, a mountainous wild rainforest that straddles Colombia and Panama.

Migrants who survive the trek speak of falling prey to both wild animals and criminal gangs.

The previous record for Darien Gap crossings was in 2016, when more than 25,000 migrants, mostly from Haiti, Cuba and outside Latin America, entered Panama, according to the Minister of Security Juan Pino.

“This year has been very crucial,” Pino told reporters. “More than 42,000 migrants have already passed through Panama and this is expected to increase.”

Until June, the National Migration Service had recorded the irregular passage of 26,992 people through the Darien Gap.

Upon arrival in Panama, migrants typically stay for a few weeks in shelters and then are transferred to the border with Costa Rica as the two countries have an agreement that allows for a controlled and coordinated flow of migrants.

In 2020, the transit of migrants collapsed due to border closures and other measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. That year, 8,594 migrants passed through Panama, a drop of 61% from 2019, according to Panamanian migration figures.

However, with many countries easing border restrictions, Panamanian authorities expect an increase in the number of migrants.

“Their only interest is to go through Panama to go to the United States and Canada,” said Pino.

Reporting by Elida Moreno; Written by Drazen Jorgic Editing by Robert Birsel

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