Panama seeks to bring migrants stranded by COVID-19 to Costa Rica
Panama intends to transport some 1,900 migrants, who have been stranded in that country due to COVID-19 after crossing the inhospitable Darien jungle, closer to the border with Costa Rica, the Panamanian government announced Saturday after a resolution by the Inter-American Court.
“We are trying to resolve their health, safety and permanence situation and how to help them cross our borders, guaranteeing the health of the population,” said Panamanian Deputy Minister of Health, Luis Francisco Sucre, in a statement.
According to Sucre, the Panamanian authorities seek to bring migrants closer to Costa Rica and Nicaragua in the “most fluid, free and safe way.”
But the Director of Migration of Costa Rica, Raquel Vargas, clarified that this transfer will not be possible because Nicaragua has announced that it will impede the passage of migrants.
“Extra-continental people in Panama are not going to cross into Costa Rica,” Vargas said in a video released to journalists.
She indicated that while Costa Rica and Panama have an agreement for the mobility of migrants, it cannot be applied currently due to the closure in Nicaragua.
“Until normality is established in the region, these people would not move from Panama,” said Vargas, who said she has discussed the issue with Panamanian immigration authorities.
After crossing the border from Colombia through the dangerous Darien jungle, the migrants remain stagnant and unable to follow their planned route through Central America to the United States.
On May 27, a resolution of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, issued by its president, the Costa Rican Elizabeth Odio, raised the alarm.
The Court, based in San José, asked the Panamanian government to ensure “access to essential health services without discrimination to all people in the La Peñita and Laja Blanca Immigration Reception Stations, including early detection and treatment of COVID-19.”
The two migration stations, located in the province of Darien, have raised concerns about the spread of the coronavirus among migrants arriving from Cuba, Haiti, Bangladesh, Nepal, Congo, Cameroon and India.
Before the pandemic, 100 migrants were sent each day, with the permission of San José, from La Peñita to the border with Costa Rica to continue their journey.
But in the face of border closures, Panama announced the construction of a new center in Darien to serve migrants.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there are about 2,000 people in shelters, when their total capacity is less than 500.
Official estimates indicate some 24,000 people crossed the Darien jungle in 2019. This year, more than 4,000 — a quarter of the children — have made the same journey despite the danger.
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