LatinNews Daily - 1 August 2023

PANAMA: Big surge in migrants crossing the Darién Gap

On 31 July Panama’s deputy director for migration said that the number of migrants crossing the Darién Gap - a dangerous section of tropical rainforest that forms the border between Colombia and Panama - had reached an all-time record.


María Isabel Saravia, the deputy director general of Panama’s migration service, said the total number of migrants crossing the Darién in the first seven months of this year was 248,901, already exceeding the full year total for 2022, which had been 248,284. Crossings have surged in recent years. Before 2020 the numbers were in the low tens of thousands. Now, however, the Panamanian government is predicting a total of 400,000 will have crossed this year in what Saraiva calls “a very large humanitarian crisis”. By nationalities over half of those crossing are Venezuelans (54.9%) followed by Ecuadoreans (13.8%), Haitians (13.7%), and Colombians (3.2%).

  • The Darién rainforest is a dense, roadless expanse of jungle. It is known as ‘the gap’ because it is the only missing section, of around 100km, in the continuous Pan-American highway which runs from Alaska in the far north down to Patagonia in southern Argentina. 
  • Crossing the Darién has become a popular route for undocumented migrants trying to enter the US. This is because other countries closer to the US border have imposed increasingly tight visa controls and restrictions. In contrast, there are almost no border controls in the Darién, allowing migrants to use it as an entry point from where they travel north from Panama.
  • According to the United Nations International Organisation for Migration (IOM) last year at least 137 migrants died or went missing, including 13 minors, trying to cross the Darién. Migration experts say the real death toll is likely much higher. In March this year 39 people died after a bus carrying migrants from the Darién to a hostel in Chiriquí, near Panama’s border with Costa Rica, crashed.

Looking Ahead: The recent increase comes despite cooperation earlier this year between the US, Panama, and Colombian authorities to try and reduce the flow of undocumented migrants. The Panamanian government expects that the number crossing the Darién is only likely to continue increasing.

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