The 34 migrants, who were part of the Controlled Flow operation, which the Panamanian government is implement to confront the migratory crisis in the region, are in a shelter in Gualaca, in Chiriqui province. They crossed the border from neighboring Colombia with the purpose of continuing to the United States.
According to statistics from the US Customs and Border Protection Office, 10,910 Cubans have presented themselves at the border so far this fiscal year (which started 1 October 2018), a figure that exceeds the 7,079 Cubans who requested asylum in the previous year.
“As an entity of State Security, the National Migration Service coordinates this type of procedure in a regular manner in response to the request of foreigners of different nationalities,” Migración Panamá said in the statement.
Panama is a transit route for the thousands of Cubans who every year seek to reach US territory to ask for political asylum. The economic crisis on the island, aggravated by the debacle of the government of Nicolás Maduro, Cuba’s main ally and benefactor, has increased the number of Cubans trying to emigrate.
Panama has been forced to manage three major migratory crises in which thousands of Cubans who were on their way to the United States have been stranded on their territory. In both crises, the Panamanian government mediated a solution for migrants with the US, Mexico and the island.
Many Cubans take advantage of visas offered by Panama to shop in the Colón Free Zone and to visit as tourists. Others also use this route to emigrate to the United States, crossing the borders of Central America and Mexico. This year 9,666 Cubans have arrived at Panamanian airports and have not returned to the island, according to official statistics.
According to Migración Panamá, Cubans constitute the largest number of returnees by nationality. So far in 2019, almost 600 Cubans have been returned to the island for reasons that include “inconsistency in the interview, lack of financial solvency, no valid passport or no visa.”
After Cubans, the next most commonly deported nationalities are Colombians with 465 returns and Venezuelans with 305 repatriations. Cubans also lead the number of immigration detentions in Panama. According to official figures, 171 Cubans have been detained in field operations.
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