Migrant flow in Darien so far this year almost equals that in 5 mo. in 2022

Panama City, Feb 8 (EFE).- More than 31,000 illegal migrants en route to North America, in particular the United States, so far this year have crossed through the dangerous Darien jungle, the natural border between Colombia and Panama, almost the same number who in the first five months of 2022 transited the zone, according to Panamanian government statistics.

Between Jan. 1 and Wednesday morning, a total of 31,610 migrants had passed through the 266 kilometers (165 miles) of jungle, according to figures provided to EFE by the National Immigration Service (SNM), while between January and May 2022, the figure was 33,819.

Some 15 percent of the travelers so far this year are “people in a special condition of vulnerability: children and teenagers,” the SNM deputy director Maria Isabel Saravia told EFE on Wednesday.

In January alone, 24,634 people arrived in Panama’s Darien province, more than five times the number for the same month last year. So far in February, 6,976 migrants have arrived there, of whom 1,156 arrived on Tuesday.

Haitian nationals have been the largest migrant group so far this year, with 12,585, followed by Ecuador (8,240), Venezuela (3,535), India (641) and Colombia (465). The rest of the migrants have come from more than 30 countries around the world, including in South America, Asia and Africa.

“This year we’ve had an increase in extra-continental citizens, who enter the Americas in the south. We’ve had an increase in Colombian and Ecuadorian citizens,” Saravia said.

In 2022, Venezuelans made up the majority (150,327) of the historic illegal migrant flow through the jungle totaling 248,284, followed by Ecuadorians (29,356) and Haitians (22,435). In 2021, it was Haitians who were in the lead and in earlier years, during the 2015-2016 crisis in Cuba it was citizens of the communist island.

The restrictions imposed by the United States on the illegal entry of Venezuelan migrants in mid-October 2022 largely halted the tidal wave of those citizens, a situation that has become evident in the figures for travelers crossing the Darien: 59,773 in that month but only 16,632 in November 2022.

“We hope to see (the dynamic governing the nationalities crossing the jungle in the greatest numbers) changing during the course of this year. It’s going to depend on the (immigration) policies of the United States and Canada, which are the main destinations,” as well as how third countries “open up (providing) free visas,” said the Panamanian immigration official.

“We calculate that the figures are not going to decline in 2023 for different reasons: sociopolitical, geographical, climate change, the post-Covid era, issues of opportunities (and) the war” in Ukraine, she said.

She emphasized the humanitarian work being done by the Panamanian government, which despite having “finite resources” is offering food and health services to illegal migrants, as well as taking biometric data from them.

Panama has been “transparent on the figures, but we’re facing a human tragedy” that the Panamanian government has managed to make more visible to the rest of the region, Saravia said.

“We have to speak about disincentivizing the irregular routes and having a commitment among the state (of origin, transit and destination) to fight against organized crime, because these people are being trafficked and handled by organized crime,” she said.

According to figures compiled by the International Organization for Migration, at least 36 migrants died in 2022 as they were crossing the Darien zone, where travelers face dangers posed by the wild landscape – animals, rivers, ravines – as well as those stemming from the presence of organized crime, which has been using the area for decades as a route for trafficking drugs, weapons and people.

The death toll, possibly, is “just a small fraction of the true number of lives that are being lost” in the area, the IOM said in January.

Many of these migrants, including minors, while en route also become the victims of robberies and sexual violence. In Panama, people responsible for these types of attacks on migrants have already been arrested and convicted.

EFE –/bp

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