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Migrants crossing Panama’s Darien Gap in increasing numbers

Just over 170,000 migrants crossed the perilous Darien Gap that connects Panama to Colombia over the first five months of this year, Panama’s migration agency said on Thursday, suggesting 2024 could again break records.

This is 2% higher than the nearly 167,000 who made the crossing in the same period of last year, data from the National Migration Service (SNM) showed, as more people embark on the dangerous crossing, many seeking better opportunities in the United States.

Last year marked a record year for migration through the Darien, during which more than half a million people crossed the stretch of thick jungle – where migrants who trek on foot for days often face robbery, violence, human trafficking and sexual abuse.

The record numbers prompted Panamanian authorities to seek international help and harden their border security, though numbers have kept rising.

A new government, due to come into power on July 1, is set to study tightening its southern border in a bid to halt migration, though it has not detailed its strategy.

While numbers were up through early 2024, SNM recorded a significant decline in April and May attributed to the start of the rainy season.

Authorities said people from Venezuela, a country facing an economic and political crisis, represented the largest group crossing the Darien Gap.

SNM said that a further 4,499 people has made the crossing in the first six days of June, 901 of whom were children.

This year’s upward trend may be impacted by a broad asylum ban imposed by U.S. President Joe Biden this week that could deter migrants from making the journey. Uncertainty around the outcome of November’s election in the U.S., in which former Republican President Donald Trump is competing to return to the White House, could also impact migrant flows.

(Reuters)

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