More than 4,000 migrants voluntarily returned to Venezuela from Panama

Panama City, Nov 9 (EFE).- More than 4,000 irregular Venezuelan migrants have voluntarily returned to their country from Panama in recent weeks, authorities said on Wednesday.

“Through 24 ‘humanitarian flights,’ more than 4,000 (Venezuelan migrants) who have voluntarily returned home have left Panama, (but) even so we had almost 1,000 people in the Veranillo shelter (in the capital) yesterday,” said National Migration Service Director Samira Gozaine.

This refuge, a shed without facilities, was set up by the Venezuelan embassy to receive the nationals, many of whom gave up their goal of entering the United States after Washington announced a new immigration policy for Venezuelans on Oct. 12 that left the tens of thousands of them with little hope of entering.

Now, Venezuelans who had already arrived in Mexico or who were in transit through Central America, are now returning to Panama, with many thinking that from this country they can travel to Venezuela for free, which is “false,” the Panamanian authorities have insisted.

“On the flights, I think more than one million dollars has been spent among people who pay for their own flights. I think it should be noted that there have been many donors (…) Venezuelans and many Panamanians. The Adventist Church has been helping, the Catholic too,” Gozaine told local network TVN.

In that sense, the director of migration revealed that Panama’s foreign ministry “has been intervening so that Venezuela returns its citizens at no cost on state airlines.”

More than 210,000 irregular migrants have passed through Panama this year on their way to the US. They arrived in the country after crossing the dangerous Darien Gap on the border with Colombia. More than 70 percent of them are Venezuelan, according to official data.

In a humble barbershop a few meters from the capital’s shelter, 21-year-old Venezuelan Rafael Arocha cut a man’s hair on Wednesday in exchange for $3-4. He wants to collect around $260 for a flight home.

In Venezuela, Arocha was a motorcycle taxi driver. He says he left his country on Sep. 30, crossed the Darien Gap, something he “never” will do again, and managed to reach Mexico, but returned “without money or anything” after the US change of policy.

“Unfortunately the doors were closed to us. There is nothing to do (…) I really need to go” home, he said.

Orlando Saavedra, 31, asked Wednesday at a traffic light for a “collaboration” to collect the cost of a ticket back to Venezuela.

He arrived at the shelter on Nov. 4, but says he knows of people who have been there for more than two weeks.

“They are taking out (on voluntary repatriation flights) women with children, but they leave men,” he said. EFE


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