Ciudad de Panamá, 8 sep (EFE).- The Panamanian government announced on Friday “operational migratory actions” to face the crisis in the Darien, the roadless jungle that connects Central America with the South of the continent through which more than 350,000 migrants have crossed this year, mainly heading to the United States.
The measures include moving checkpoints where travelers arrive to reduce the impact on small communities and contain migrants, increasing deportations, and tightening airport controls.
Migrants, including entire families with children, in many cases, infants, walk a 266-kilometer journey plagued with dangers because of the rugged terrain and the presence of criminal groups that commit all kinds of crimes.
Panama receives travelers at stations where it takes their biometric data and offers them medical assistance and food, a unique operation in the continent in which it has invested almost $70 million in recent years, according to official data.
MOVING CONTROL POINTS AWAY FROM TOWNS
The director of Panama’s National Migration Service, Samira Gozaine, announced that the control and assistance points for migrants in the municipalities of Bajo Chiquito and Canaán Membrillo would be removed “to protect the host towns” and “to mitigate the sanitary and security impact.”
The director said the government will build reception centers where “we can integrate and contain the migrants so that they do not affect the daily lives of the people in the communities.”
STEPPING UP DEPORTATIONS
This first package of measures also includes “stepping up deportations and expulsions of irregular citizens with criminal records through charter flights,” according to Gozaine.
Since last April, Panama has deported 452 people to date. “If 3,000 people come in, we would like to deport 3,000, but that is impossible,” Gozaine said.
Migration officials will use biometric data to identify people with criminal records.
TIGHTENING IMMIGRATION CONTROLS AT AIRPORTS
According to Gozaine, criminal groups also use airports to move migrants, a costlier option than walking through the jungle.
Panama will “reduce the tourism period from 90 days to 15 days” for specific individuals, although “not for all people or all nationalities,” Gozaine said. Only for those deemed to fit a particular profile after being interviewed by border authorities.
Those who exceed the tourism time limit “will have to pay fines.”
SOARING NUMBERS CAUSE REGIONAL TENSIONS
From January 1 to September 7, at least 350,841 migrants arrived at the Darien migration stations en route to North America. According to official figures, the majority were Venezuelans, followed by Ecuadorians and Haitians.
In 2022, 248,000 was the total number of travelers throughout the year, and in 2021 it was only 133,000.
“We are at the limit of our capacities,” said the Panamanian Minister of Security, Juan Manuel Pino, complaining that the countries of the South of the continent “have not paid due attention” to this crisis.
After a meeting last week, Panama and Costa Rica decided to unite “with a single voice” to advocate for a “better management” of migratory flows. This position clashes with Colombia’s idea of allowing free transit.