Migrants crossing Darien increase sixfold to 127,000 so far this year

Panama City, May 2 (EFE).- In the first four months of this year, more than 127,000 undocumented migrants traveling northward to the United States arrived in Panama after crossing the Darien jungle, the dangerous zone bordering on Colombia, and this total is six times the number who moved through the area during the same period last year, according to Panamanian government figures to which EFE obtained access.

Panama collects biometric data from these travelers and offers them healthcare and food assistance at stations located both in Darien and Chiriqui provinces, the latter bordering on Costa Rica, where more than a dozen international organizations maintain a presence, according to Panama City.

Between Jan. 1 and April 30, 2023, a total of 127,687 people moved through Darien province, with Venezuelans being the most numerous with 55,589, followed by Haitians (28,610), Ecuadorians (16,992), Colombians (3,836) and Indians (2,791), according to figures gathered by Panama’s National Migration Service (SNM).

The figure for the first four months of 2023 is six times the 19,925 migrants who traversed the zone between January and April 2022, a year that closed with a total of 248,284 people moving through the Darien jungle on their trek to North America, that being an unprecedented figure far outstripping the previous record of 133,726 set in 2021.

April was the month with the most arrivals with 40,297, significantly above January and February with 24,634 and 24,657, respectively, and a slight increase over the 38,099 for March.

Of the 1,427 people who arrived at the Darien immigration stations on April 30, 304 – or 21 percent – were minors.

“If migration stays like it’s been up to now we’re going to have double the number we had before,” specifically the quarter million migrants who crossed the Darien region in 2022, Panamanian Foreign Minister Janaina Tewaney Mencomo said on April 24, asking countries in the region for “concrete action” to deal with the crisis.

On April 27, the United States announced a series of measures aimed at reducing the flow of illegal migrants toward its southern border with Mexico starting on May 11, when Title 42 – a regulation allowing fast-track expulsions of undocumented migrants – expires.

More restrictive measures will go into effect on that date on the US-Mexico border with people apprehended crossing into the US illegally being barred for five years from entering the country and requesting asylum, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Monday on Facebook and TikTok launched its “Confia en el Tucan” (Trust the Toucan) project whereby it intends to combat false information surrounding the Darien jungle and its use as an illegal migration route.

“At least 38 percent of the people who arrive in Darien get their information on Facebook and almost 10 percent on TikTok,” said the UNHCR office for Belize, Cuba, Panama, Nicaragua and the southern Caribbean, located in the Panamanian capital.

There are no definitive figures for the number of migrants who die in the Darien, where travelers must deal with the wild environment and criminal groups who commit assaults and rapes. Figures from the International Migration Organization’s Missing Migrants Project indicate that 221 people have gone missing in the region since 2014, 14 of them this year, but the organization admits that the true figure is certainly enormously higher.

EFE –/bp

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