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Panama to deport more migrants entering through Darien

The government of Panama announced on Friday that it will intensify the deportation of migrants entering the country through the inhospitable Darien jungle on the border with Colombia, in order to curb the migratory wave towards the United States.

“Within our capabilities and budget we will increase actions to gradually and progressively increase deportations and expulsions” of migrants who enter the country irregularly, said the director of the National Migration System, Samira Gozaine, at a press conference.

The 266 km long and 575,000 hectare Darien natural border has become a corridor for migrants who, from South America, try to reach the United States through Central America and Mexico.

According to official data, so far this year more than 352,000 people have crossed the Darien, despite the fact that the United States has warned that it will not allow entry into its territory for those who irregularly enter Panama. Of that total, according to Gozaine, since April the Panamanian authorities have deported 452 people, a negligible figure.

The measures to contain the migratory wave, which are in effect from this date, “will be made for all those people who remain illegally or intend to remain illegally in Panamanian territory,” warned the official.

To this end, the Panamanian government is preparing aircraft and charter flight contracts for the deportation of migrants.

The total number of foreigners who have passed through Darien this year already exceeds by more than 100,000 the figure for the whole of last year, when 248,000 people made that crossing, breaking all migration records.

In the past week, an average of more than 2,600 migrants have arrived in the Central American country daily from Colombia. Gozaine indicated that the Panamanian government will not be able to carry out mass deportations due to lack of resources, so they will focus first on people with criminal records.

“Obviously, we have limited resources, we would like if 3,000 people [irregularly enter Panama] to deport the 3,000, but it is impossible, it is not operational,” argued the official.

Greater controls and restrictions on the border

Almost half of the migrants passing through the Darien are Venezuelans, although Ecuadorians, Haitians and Colombians also stand out. There are also Asians, with a growing number of Chinese, and Africans, especially from Cameroon. Foreigners cross the jungle despite being plagued with dangers such as wild animals, raging rivers and criminal gangs.

The situation has forced the Panamanian government to set up several shelters throughout the country, with support from international organizations.

According to Gozaine, Panama has spent more than $70 million on this migration crisis, where it has received more than 730,000 people since 2021.

The government will also strengthen security measures in border towns and reduce the stay permit in the country from 90 to 15 days for some migrants.

Since April this year “we have managed to rescue from organized crime and human trafficking networks, in the Darien area, more than 576 migrants,” said the director of the National Border Service, Jorge Gobea.

“We are going to reinforce the coastal control routes,” both in the Pacific and the Caribbean, and “restrict the use of the trails used by migrants on the border limits,” he added.

Overflowing border

Panama has criticized other South American countries, which it accuses of an alleged lack of cooperation to contain the migratory flow, especially from Colombia.

“Panama has handled this flow responsibly, but we are already at the limit of our capabilities because the overflow of people is already massive,” said Security Minister Juan Manuel Pino. There are countries “that have not paid due attention” to the migration phenomenon, he added.

Panamanian Chancellor Janaina Tewaney reported that the Panamanian president, Laurentino Cortizo, will meet this month with his Colombian counterpart, Gustavo Petro, within the framework of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, to address, among other issues, the migration crisis.

“The migration issue is glaring,” acknowledged Tewaney. “We are going to take all the actions that correspond to us to defend our border,” she added.

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