Migrants eying return to Venezuela continue to arrive at Panama shelter

Panama City, Oct 24 (EFE).- Undocumented Venezuelan migrants who have given up on plans to seek asylum in the United States and are seeking ways to fly back to their homeland continued to arrive Monday at a temporary shelter in this capital.

The Venezuelan Embassy in Panama set up the shelter and is organizing voluntary return flights, the cost of which is to be covered by the migrants themselves, Panamanian authorities said and Efe observed.

The shelter was housing around 1,100 people on Monday, after two flights carrying 300 people left for Venezuela on Sunday night, said the director of Panama’s National Migration Service, Samira Gozaine.

“But they keep arriving, so the numbers keep increasing,” that official told reporters outside the temporary shelter.

One of the migrants said he went to Panama City’s Tocumen Airport to purchase his plane ticket and was told it cost $180. But after filling out some paperwork at the Venezuelan consulate, he went to the temporary shelter and was told the price of the ticket had climbed to $280.

It’s a matter of supply and demand, Gozaine said about the cost of the tickets. “We can’t tell a company what to charge.”

“We know there are some donors who have helped people (cover the cost),” she said, adding that Venezuela’s diplomatic mission is not able to pay for everyone’s individual flights.

These migrants, who arrived in Panama from Colombia via the perilous, jungle-filled Darien Gap, are opting to voluntarily return to their homeland due to a policy shift in the US, which until a few weeks ago had allowed Venezuelans arriving at the US-Mexico border to enter the country and apply for asylum.

That changed on Oct. 12, when President Joe Biden’s administration announced that Venezuelans who arrive at the border will be sent back to Mexico immediately after being detained.

The White House’s move is aimed at tackling a dramatic increase in irregular migration from Venezuela in recent years and marks an expansion of Title 42, a US pandemic-related policy that has allowed border agents to quickly expel migrants to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

According to official figures provided to Efe on Sunday, a record number of 204,986 undocumented migrants have traveled through Panama this year, 71.8 percent of them from Venezuela, a country hard-hit by US sanctions that has been mired in economic crisis for years.

Prior to Oct. 12, Venezuelans had been encouraged to make the long journey to the US, secure in the knowledge that the lack of formal diplomatic relations between their leftist-led homeland and Washington meant they could not easily be sent back. EFE


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