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Venezuelan Migrants Fill Shelters in Panama due to US Entry Ban

Nearly half a thousand Venezuelan migrants packed a makeshift shelter in the Panamanian capital after being stranded by the new US order to expel people from Venezuela who arrive illegally at its border, AFP observed Sunday.

The migrants, who crossed the dangerous Darien jungle, bordering Colombia, remain in a warehouse set up as a shelter where they are attended by Panamanian and Venezuelan authorities while they wait to return to their country by plane, but they must get a ticket that they say costs 280 dollars.

“Since we lost everything having gone through the jungle, we are without tickets, without the economy (resources) to take the flight that supposedly is humanitarian, but they are charging us 280 dollars” per person, said to Douglas Gálvez, who is traveling with his wife and two minor children.

Gálvez wants to return to his country “to start over” and asked for support from the international community to pay for the tickets.

Migrants rest inside the building on mattresses, others prefer to wander outside. Other Venezuelans living in Panama are also arriving to provide them with food. 

Judy Meana, deputy mayor of the capital, said that this is the first time that the migratory crisis is being dealt with in the city because “it had only been experienced at the borders”, and pointed out that they are coordinating the reception of humanitarian aid because “there are children who need pediatric care”, among other emergencies. 

On Friday, the Panamanian Foreign Minister, Janaina Tewaney Mencomo, said that “it seems that the flow” of migrants through the Darien “is going down” after the measure implemented last October 13 by the United States to stop the illegal migration of Venezuelans. 

Washington closed the door to migrants from Venezuela who have illegally crossed Panama and Mexico, and will only accept 24,000 with prior permission who arrive by plane and have a sponsor on U.S. soil.

Ronald Pacheco, another migrant who was traveling as a family and who refused to be transferred to a shelter on the border with Costa Rica, said, “I am missing a ticket for the girl”.

According to Panamanian government data, between January and last week, 184,433 irregular migrants had arrived in its territory in transit from the jungle, of which 133,597 were Venezuelan. 

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