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Panama: Time needed to ID Migrants killed in the Accident

Panama warned Thursday that “it will take time” to identify the migrants killed in one of the worst bus accidents in its history, whose bodies were stored in a refrigerated truck after the morgue’s capacity collapsed.

Some 40 migrants died and about 20 were injured after the bus carrying them to the Costa Rican border went off the road early Wednesday morning in Gualaca, Chiriqui province, about 400 km west of Panama City. The Panamanian driver was also killed in the accident.

The bus was transporting the foreigners from the Darien, the dangerous jungle bordering Colombia to the south, to a hostel in the western Panamanian town before resuming their visa-free journey to the United States.

The vehicle, part of the fleet organized by the government to try to channel the migratory flow, was carrying 66 foreigners and two drivers, one of whom died.

The vehicle crashed when it lost control on a curve and hit a rock and another vehicle very close to the shelter, after almost 14 hours of travel for about 700 kilometers.

Data is lacking

However, authorities have given different versions of the death toll.

“As we already know, the number of deceased amounts to 40 foreign citizens,” said Juan Garcia, advisor to the National Migration Service, to Telemetro channel.

“In this trip there were foreign citizens of Ecuadorian, Venezuelan, Haitian and Cuban nationality”, he added. However, the prosecutor’s office considers that due to the state of the bodies it is not yet possible to give an exact figure.

“This process will take time, (…) the state of the bodies and the lack of ante-mortem data make it difficult for the experts, especially with regard to identification,” the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, which depends on the prosecutor’s office, said in a statement.

“Information will be needed from the migrants’ countries of origin,” such as fingerprint and dental records and DNA samples from family members “for genetic comparisons,” the Institute of Legal Medicine added.

“We cannot give an exact precision of the number of fatalities because there is a very complex situation and that is that there are dismemberments” of the bodies of some of the deceased, said the senior prosecutor of Chiriqui, Melissa Navarro, in a statement sent through the press office.

“We as the public ministry speak of the lifting of 37 remains so far,” Navarro added. The Panamanian government has not specified the nationality of the deceased or the injured.

Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez, informed on Twitter that among the dead there are “Cuban citizens”. Colombia and Ecuador also confirmed the death of several of their nationals.

Refrigerated Truck

The accident also left more than 20 injured who were taken to hospitals in David, capital of the province of Chiriqui, while the dead were taken to the judicial morgue of this same city.

A refrigerated truck arrived on Thursday at the morgue to store the bodies, due to the fact that its capacity collapsed, and the identification task will be long.

“The corpses will be preserved with the due dignity that international standards establish,” said the Institute of Legal Medicine. The Panamanian Red Cross, which donated mortuary bags to the David morgue, informed that it is trying to contact relatives of the victims and injured.

“We are in actions of reestablishing family contact so that relatives abroad can have knowledge about their loved ones,” Leo Dan Berrios, regional director of the Red Cross for the Panamanian provinces of Chiriqui, Veraguas and Bocas del Toro, told reporters.

The dangerous Darien jungle has become a corridor for irregular migration traveling from South America to the United States via Central America. Along the way, migrants must face wild animals, raging rivers and criminal groups.

According to official data, 248,000 people, mostly Venezuelans, crossed the Darien in 2022. This year 37,000 migrants have already crossed it, a fifth of them children.

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