14ymedio, Lorey Saman, Mexico, August 6, 2021 — The Colombian National Navy intercepted a boat carrying 18 undocumented Cubans in the Gulf of Urabá, in the north of the country, El Tiempo newspaper reported this Friday. This area of the Caribbean Sea, which connects towns such as Necoclí and Capurganá, is a necessary route for migrants seeking to cross into Panama through the Darien jungle on their way to the United States.
The authorities reported that a total of 19 migrants were on board, including two minors and one identified as a Chilean national. The interception took place at night, during hours when navigation is prohibited on the Urabá Sea.
Upon noticing the Navy’s presence, the boat moved away from the area until it landed on the coast of Punta Yarumal, in the town of Turbo, the authorities said. “Three subjects managed to flee, while the migrants were transported to the Urabá Coast Guard Station, where they received food and medical attention.”
The Navy confirmed that shortly afterwards the foreigners were turned over to the immigration authorities, and the boat in which they were transported was seized.
The Colombian government has reinforced operations in the Gulf of Urabá after the migration crisis in the municipality of Necoclí, where more than 10,000 migrants remain stranded, including Haitians, Cubans, Africans, Venezuelans, and Asians. Four Coast Guard units and two ships were reassigned to the area to control the flow of illegal boats that transport migrants, El Tiempo reports.
The director of Colombia Migration, Juan Francisco Espinosa, confirmed via Twitter that “there is a reinforcement” of operations by the Navy and the Police due to the crisis and that “a process of strengthening the military presence is being developed” on the border with Panama to “avoid the illegal entry of migrants.”
Espinosa also reported that in the coming days they will set up a permanent office in Necoclí to serve the migrant population transiting through that municipality on their journey to the United States, and announced a meeting for this Friday between foreign ministers of the region.
Meanwhile, in Necoclí the crisis due to the presence of thousands of migrants is worsening. Espinosa warned the press that there is a health alert among this group of foreigners for a possible “measles outbreak.”
“The Ministry of Health is developing strategies to reinforce its presence in that area, where we were notified that unfortunately an outbreak of measles and other diseases could be occurring,” the official explained.
Days ago, the Colombian Ombudsman’s Office had indicated that weather factors caused a delay in the departures of the Necoclí boats to Capurganá, the last point before the migrants ventured through the Darien jungle, bordering Panama. The authorities also believe that the increase in the migratory flow is due to border roadblocks and quarantines in several countries due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which delayed the departure of many of these people.
Months ago, the average flow was up to 400 migrants two or three days a week, but for three weeks, the boats (with a capacity of 50 to 60 passengers) have more than doubled the weekly number.
The border between Panama and Colombia, both through the dangerous Darien jungle and by sea, is crossed by thousands of undocumented migrants from various countries around the world. Illegal boats are frequently intercepted in the Gulf of Urabá as a result of operations against illegal traffic coordinated by several countries.
But many of these vessels manage to evade military controls, as some Cubans stranded for weeks in Necoclí told 14ymedio during the previous crisis in January and February. According to their reports, the government boats, which provide transportation service in the area, charged 65 dollars per person, while the coyotes asked 400.
This journey is very dangerous and some lose their lives along the way, such as Cubans Edelvis Martínez Aguilar and Dunieski Eliades Lastre Sedeño, who in 2016 hired two Colombian boatmen to take them to Panama. The traffickers sexually assaulted Martínez, and then murdered both her and Lastre by slitting their throats. The Colombians were extradited to the United States and sentenced to 45 and 50 years in prison for murder and human trafficking.
Translated by Tomás A.
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