Panama City, Sept 27 (EFE).- The number of migrants who have arrived in Panama through the Darien jungle on their irregular journey to North America will surpass the 400,000 mark on Wednesday, an unprecedented record that shows the magnitude of the growing migration crisis in the American continent.
Figures from Panama’s National Migration Service obtained by EFE reveal that as of 6 am Wednesday, 399,606 migrants had entered the country through the Darién jungle in 2023.
Throughout the month of September, the daily rate has exceeded 2,000 people, meaning that the 400,000 mark will be surpassed.
This unprecedented number beats last year’s record of 248,000 migrants and 2021’s record of 133,000.
Panamanian authorities have already said that the number of people crossing the jungle this year could reach half a million.
A roadless, impenetrable jungle
The Darien Gap is a dense rainforest that straddles the natural border between South and Central America. There are no roads through it, even the Pan-American Highway, which otherwise links the entire continent from south to north, is interrupted here for 106 km.
On the Panamanian side of the border, most of the region is covered by a nearly 6,000-square-kilometer national park.
An expensive and dangerous route
The road through the Darién is dangerous, both because of the rugged jungle terrain and because of armed groups that control the migrants’ pass.
At least 37 people have died there this year, according to the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project, but the agency admits that underreporting is enormous so the number could be much higher.
In addition to the deaths, travelers are being robbed, assaulted, and raped.
In April 2023, the offices of the human rights ombudsmen of Colombia and Panama issued a joint warning about the criminal groups that control each side of the border and the danger they pose to migrants and local communities.
A recent New York Time investigation found that the armed group that controls the Colombian side of the border charges migrants a “tax” of about $80 per person for permission to cross the Darién.
The reportage also found a collection of migration entrepreneurs that have sprung up, charging $40 for the boat ride further up the forest, $170 for a guide, or even all-inclusive packages that include tents for $500.
The companies that offer these services only take the migrants to the Panamanian border, since helping them across could constitute illegal smuggling.
Why migrants take this route
Panama is the only country in the region that collects biometric data from migrants at checkpoints on both its southern border with Colombia and its northern border with Costa Rica, where it also provides medical care and meals.
According to Panamanian authorities, the vast majority of travelers passing through the Darién Gap are South Americans. Of the 400,000 who have crossed its southern border this year, 324,000 were from the continent, including more than 252,000 Venezuelans, followed by 47,724 Ecuadorians and 13,404 Colombians.
On the other hand, 39,200 migrants from the Caribbean, 27,878 Asians and 7,389 Africans crossed the Darién in 2023.