Migrants’ dreams of reaching US still intact despite deadly Panama bus crash
David, Panama, Mar 17 (EFE).- “Having survived means a lot, a whole lot. I thank God every day for having given me this opportunity,” a still-convalescing Edison Figueroa told Efe about a bus accident last month in western Panama that killed 39 people, mostly migrants like him with dreams of reaching the United States.
The vehicle crashed on Feb. 15 while carrying that Ecuadorian man and 65 other migrants from one shelter in the far-eastern Panamanian jungle province of Darien, which borders Colombia, to another in the far-western province of Chiriqui, located on the border with Costa Rica.
A total of 37 migrants and two Panamanian citizens were killed, according to the latest official figures.
The bodies that have not been claimed by family members will be buried Friday in David, Chiriqui’s capital, not far from the site of the accident.
Figueroa, who was left with a scar on his forehead and is recovering along with other survivors at a Catholic shelter in Chiriqui, recalled that two friends who were traveling with him lost their lives in the crash.
“My two friends I was traveling with passed away, and now only I’m alive. I feel a bit sad, with a lot of sorrow, a lot of nostalgia, but there’s nothing I can do except thank God for being alive,” said the Ecuadorian native, who abandoned his culinary studies in hopes of working and saving money in the United States and later opening a business in his homeland.
Figueroa, who underwent surgery for a severe left arm fracture and a wound on his forehead, did not recover his memory until Monday.
Last year, 248,284 migrants crossed the Darien Gap, a swamp-filled 100-kilometer-long (60-mile-long) expanse that straddles the Colombia-Panama border and whose dangers include a criminal gang known as the Clan del Golfo, turbulent rivers, rugged hills and deadly wild animals.
That unprecedented figure reflected the ongoing exodus of migrants from Venezuela, a country hard hit by US sanctions that has been mired in a years-long economic crisis.
Thus far in 2023, 58,000 migrants have taken that perilous route to Central America, a five-fold increase from the same period of 2022, according to official figures through the first week of March.
“I’m not going to lie. It’s ugly. You see everything there, you see robberies, deaths, rapes,” 35-year-old Venezuelan migrant Victor Medina, who also was injured in the bus accident in Chiriqui, told Efe.
Even so, he said he plans to continue his journey northward once he recovers from his injuries. “That’s my destiny, to reach the United States.”
Panama registers migrants who cross the Darien Gap and offers them medical assistance and food at shelters in Darien province, where humanitarian organizations have established a presence.
The migrants are later transported by bus – at their own expense – to another shelter near the Costa Rica border so they can continue their journey to North America.
Another Venezuelan migrant, Diogman Ruiz, says he was sleeping when the accident occurred and woke up in the hospital, where he learned that his mother and stepfather had perished.
His plans of reaching the US are unchanged since the crash, because “that’s what my mom wanted, it was her dream.”
The shelter in Chiriqui where Figueroa and other survivors of the crash are recovering currently houses 35 people and is run by Red CLAMOR, a Latin American ecclesial network that coordinates different organizations’ efforts to serve migrants, refugees and human-trafficking victims.
Rafael Lara, Red CLAMOR’s national coordinator in Panama, told Efe that it is always a challenge to attend to the needs of migrants who endured unspeakable hardships in the jungle.
“The stories we’ve heard from migrants who suffered this accident, they haven’t put (those experiences) behind them. They’re harrowing stories.” EFE