Panama’s Darién Gap sees increase in migrant crossings, data shows

Panama’s Darién Gap sees increase in migrant crossings, data shows
  • PublishedJune 8, 2024

Panamanian figures show at least 174,513 migrants crossed the treacherous Darién Gap, a mountainous rainforest region connecting South and Central America, from January to June 6 of this year.

The latest figures are higher than around the same period in 2023, when more than 166,000 crossings were reported, according to Panama’s National Migration Service.

The Darién Gap, which a decade ago was seen as an almost impassable barrier, has continued to see an increase in the number of migrants willing to risk their lives and safety to cross it.

According to migration service figures, a record 520,000 people crossed the jungle last year. Experts say many continue to journey towards the United States in search of better opportunities.

The National Migration Service of Panama said Thursday that in the first six days of June 2024, at least 4,499 people – 3,598 adults and 901 minors – arrived in the country.

This comes as the number of children crossing the Darién Gap has increased by 40% this year, putting the route on track to see record levels of child migration for the fifth consecutive year, according to a report by the United Nations’ children’s agency.

The UNICEF report added that in the first four months of 2024, over 30,000 children crossed the Darién Gap, and that 2,000 were unaccompanied or separated from their families.

This comes as Panamanian politicians seek to harden the country’s borders. During his election campaign, Panama’s president-elect José Raúl Mulino said that he wanted to “close the Darién,” citing safety concerns. He explained in early May that he had proposed to initiate “a repatriation process with full respect for human rights” for the hundreds of thousands of migrants who pass through the area each year.

“So that those from there, and those who would like to come, know that those who arrive here will be returned to their country of origin,” Mulino said.

Mulino’s plan may prove unfeasible given that the jungle is 266 kilometers (165 miles) long. Discouraging migrants from crossing could be a tough challenge since many of them pay human smugglers operating on both sides of the borders.

Migrants walking by the jungle near Bajo Chiquito village, the first border control of the Darien Province in Panama, on September 22, 2023.

Migrants walking by the jungle near Bajo Chiquito village, the first border control of the Darien Province in Panama, on September 22, 2023. Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images

“In practical terms, trying to reduce migration through the Darién is a difficult task. The complexity is not just about entry points, but how to manage and have better information on who is helping migrants get through,” Ariel Ruiz, a policy analyst at the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, told CNN.

The 66-mile (106-kilometer) hike through the Darien Gap brings migrants from Colombia to Panama and is a crucial passage for those hoping to reach the United States and Canada.

Mass migration across the Western Hemisphere has fueled a growing number of people moving north.

The journey carries multiple risks for migrants, including robberies, assaults, kidnappings, diseases, wild animal attacks, and accidents in a jungle full of rivers, mountains, and mud flats, according to the UN Refugee agency, UNHCR.

SOURCE: CNNNEWS

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