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Monday, March 13, 2023

Panama Probes Claims of Migrant Sexual Abuse by Officials

The Panamanian government will investigate alleged sexual abuse of migrants by Panamanian officials to facilitate their transfer to Costa Rica, after a UN report published these alleged cases in a Spanish newspaper.

The Ministry of Security assured in a statement that if there are indications or formal complaints, “the Panamanian government will carry out the pertinent investigations to the last consequences”.

The reaction of the Panamanian government comes after the Spanish newspaper El País published a UN document in which “serious abuses were allegedly committed by officials of the National Migration Service and the National Border Service”.

According to the document, officials of the Migrant Reception Station of San Vicente, in the province of Darien, bordering Colombia, requested “sexual exchanges from women and girls” who lacked money to “meet the costs of transportation” from that center to the border with Costa Rica.

According to El País, there are also reports of “forced labor” in order to pay the US$40 cost of the journey. However, the Panamanian government indicated that there are “no” formal complaints.

The competent authorities have attended to “any complaint presented” by the migrants and “in none of these has there been any mention of the participation of Panamanian public officials” in these alleged acts, the official note indicated.

The Panamanian government also rejected “the accusations that try to undermine the humanitarian work”.

The Darien jungle has become a corridor for irregular migration from South America trying to reach the United States through Central America.

This jungle border between Panama and Colombia, 266 km long and covering 575,000 hectares, is a route fraught with dangers, such as wild animals, fast-flowing rivers and criminal groups.

Despite this, and according to Panamanian government data, in 2022 248,000 people passed through the Darien, a figure that pulverized the previous year’s records, when 133,000 migrants made the crossing.

Most of them are Venezuelans, although there are also Ecuadorians, Haitians and Cubans, as well as Africans and Asians.

To alleviate the situation, the Panamanian government, in conjunction with various United Nations agencies and other international organizations, has set up several camps to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants.

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