EFE/14ymedio, Panama, 24 September 2022 — A total of 134,178 migrants in transit to North America have arrived in Panama this year after crossing the Darién, the dangerous border jungle with Colombia, above the historic figure of 133,726 in 2021, the Government reported on Friday.
“Panama is strengthening its humanitarian and security teams that work in the border communities, because this Friday, the number of migrants who entered the country after crossing the thick Darién jungle reached the figure of 134,178,” reported the Ministry of Public Security (MINSEG).
MINISEG added that to date, 343 boys and 231 girls have been registered in the communities of Bajo Chiquito or Canaan Membrillo and in reception stations, where they are provided with health care, food and housing in response to human rights agreements.”
The Ombudsman’s Office reported that “the number of travelers is equal to that at the end of 2021,” and announced a meeting, this Friday, of its head, Eduardo Leblanc, and his Colombian colleague, Carlos Camargo, to continue looking for ways that guarantee “the safe passage” of this population. Leblanc stressed that Panama “is the only country that collects statistics or biometric figures for the number of migrants.”
While last year the vast majority of irregular migrants were Haitians, in 2022 it’s Venezuelans who cross the most — 80,000 so far this year according to the National Migration Service (SENAFRONT), all bound for North America, especially the United States.
Migrants who leave the Island also use the dangerous jungle as a way to get to the United States, a crossing where several Cubans have already died. A boy under the age of 14 died in November 2021 of a heart attack on the crossing, and his family spent seven days in the jungle.
The Darién jungle is considered one of the most dangerous migratory routes in the world, both because of its own wild environment and the presence of armed groups. Migrants report that they suffer attacks and sexual assaults by criminals, some of whom have already been arrested and convicted in Panama, according to the authorities.
This newspaper has received the testimony of several migrants who were victims of rape during their crossing through the Darién but refused to make their cases public or to file corresponding complaints with the Panamanian authorities. Last year, a 45-year-old Cuban woman told Doctors Without Borders how she, along with a group of women, was raped in front of everyone as she passed through the jungle.
Panama welcomes irregular travelers in migratory reception stations (ERMs) located on its border with Colombia (south) and Costa Rica (north), where they take their biometric data and receive food and medical care, in the only operation in the region that consumes millions of dollars per year, according to the Government.
According to data provided to EFE this Friday by SENAFRONT, so far this year at least 26 migrants have died while crossing the Darién, a 266-kilometer stretch of thick, dangerous and inhospitable jungle.
One of those cases is the murder, this week, of a six-year-old Venezuelan minor, when armed men assaulted a group of migrants in the jungle.
Those allegedly responsible for the death of the child and for a gunshot wound to his father’s cheekbone, also a national of Venezuela, would be Venezuelans, Colombians and Panamanians, according to the testimony of the survivor, said the director of SENAFRONT, Oriel Ortega, on Friday.
“We’re going to capture these people (…) we condemn this vile and cowardly act. How is it possible that, on top of robbing these defenseless human beings, they attack them using firearms?” asked the head of the agency in charge of border security in an interview with the local TVN network.
Ortega explained that the members of this “criminal” group offer help to migrants to cross the jungle and then commit their “villainy.” But most of those who died this year in the jungle drowned. Among the victims are many nationals of countries in Asia and Africa who are not familiar with flowing rivers such as those of the Darién, Ortega explained.
There are times when we find bones or corpses already in an advanced state of decomposition and buried along the route. They are marked with geo-referenced GPS systems,” he added.
Last July, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned that 192 migrants had died so far this year during their transit through Central America and Mexico.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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