200,000-plus illegal migrants have crossed Colombia-Panama border this year

Panama City, Oct 23 (EFE).- A total of 204,986 illegal migrants heading for the United States have crossed through the Darien jungle, the dangerous border region between Colombia and Panama, so far this year creating an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, according to figures provided by Panamanian authorities to EFE on Sunday.

The huge number of migrants is unprecedented, much greater than the official figure of 133,726 who crossed through the area in all of 2021 setting a record for the previous decade.

The jungle zone is a risky route that illegal migrants from all over the world have taken for decades on their desperate US-bound treks.

According to figures from Panama National Immigration Service (SNM), of the almost 205,000 migrants who passed through the Darien between Jan. 1 and Oct. 22 this year, 71.8 percent – or 147,203 – have been Venezuelans, with the rest coming from some 30 Western Hemisphere, African and Asian nations.

So far in October alone 53,404 migrants have passed through the zone – 39,834 of them Venezuelans – a record-setting figure that far outstrips the 48,204 in September, the 31,104 in August, the 22,822 in July, the 15,633 in June and the 13,894 in May.

May was the month in which the increased flow really started, as shown by the fact that 4,702 passed through the region in January, 4,262 in February, 4,827 in March and 6,134 in April.

This wave of migrants has included whole families with children and even babies. Many of the Venezuelans and Haitians in the flow are coming from third countries – including Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Brazil – where they had temporarily settled or at least had tried to establish themselves.

Panama receives the illegal travelers at immigration welcoming stations (ERM) located on the border with Colombia and Costa Rica, where authorities log the migrants’ biometric data and where they provide them with food and medical attention.

More than 2,500 migrants have been arriving each day in recent weeks, a figure that began to slack off a bit after the United States on Oct. 12 announced a new policy tightening immigration restrictions for Venezuelans. Now, any Venezuelan illegally arriving in the US across that country’s southern border who illegally crossed the Panamanian or Mexican borders is subject to immediate deportation back to Mexican territory.

But on Saturday, 1,223 migrants arrived at the shelters in Darien, according to what the SNM told EFE.

Panamanian Foreign Minister Janaina Tewany said last Friday that on Tuesday 2,665 migrants had made the illegal crossing, whereas a day later it had been 1,522 and on Thursday it was 1,213, and thus it has appeared that the flow has been slacking off, at least temporarily.

She repeated Panama’s view that the humanitarian crisis that has resulted from this increased migrant flow must be approached from the viewpoint of “shared responsibility” and that the country will be proposing bilateral and multilateral meetings to seek “concrete” regional efforts to deal with it.

Several hundred Venezuelan migrants who want to return to their homeland are being housed in a “temporary shelter” outfitted by the Venezuelan Embassy in the Panamanian capital while safe conduct authorization and/or economic support is provided to them so that they can get back to Venezuela by air.

Many of them on Saturday showed up at Panama’s main Tocumen airport looking for tickets on flights to Venezuela, but they were taken from there on busses to the temporary shelter, with some of them complaining about a significant rise in the cost of plane tickets.

Tewany said on Friday that the “voluntary return” of these illegal migrants “is being coordinated via the Foreign Ministry, immigration authorities and the Venezuelan mission in Panama, which has taken responsibility” in the matter, arranging so far for hundreds of the migrants to take charter flights back to Venezuela.

EFE gf/enb/bp

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