Nearly 250,000 migrants cross the Darien jungle

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The irregular flow of migrants through the dangerous Darien jungle on the Colombian border towards North America registered a record number in 2022, with almost 250,000 people in transit coming mainly from countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador.

It is a phenomenon that is expected to continue this year, although possibly to a lesser extent and with different patterns after the immigration measures promoted by the United States government, according to some experts.

This number is almost double the crossings registered in 2021, when they reached 133,000 and were carried out mainly by Haitians, indicated the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in a report released Tuesday from Geneva and which is based on the records of the Immigration authorities of Panama.

This flow through the jungle of Darién -a remote province of Panama- has been going on for more than a decade, but last year it took a drastic turn with the sharp increase in Venezuelans who decided to use this sometimes deadly route or along the Panamanian coasts to reach USA.

In total, according to the report, 150,327 Venezuelans crossed, which contrasts with the almost 3,000 who did so in 2021.

It is also striking that the flow of Ecuadorians went from 330 people to 29,356 in 2022. These nationalities were followed by Haitians (22,435), Cubans (5,961) and dozens of other countries from Africa and Asia hit by poverty and years of violence. and armed conflicts.

The Panamanian immigration authorities assure that hundreds of migrants have continued to cross the Darién in the first two weeks of January, although they did not specify the nationalities.

"I don't know what we are going to see in 2023, (but) I think it is very difficult to reach the same number (as last year) because things have changed since October," said the IOM mission chief in Panama, Giuseppe Loprete. .

He alluded to the immigration control measures announced by the United States government in relation to Venezuelans given the sharp increase this year in those who tried to cross the border with Mexico irregularly and among whom were included migrants who avoided the Darién.

Through its plan, the United States would initially accept 24,000 Venezuelans temporarily who arrive by plane and have a sponsor in that nation, which caused many to be stranded in Panama or returned from Costa Rica or other countries.

The National Migration Service of Panama recently reported that 5,600 Venezuelan migrants had been sent back to their country so far on "humanitarian flights."

"There was a drastic change and almost immediately," said Loprete, referring to the fact that the transit of Venezuelans was reduced.

This has not happened, however, with migrants of other nationalities, including from Ecuador, Haiti and Cuba, "where there are critical situations for different reasons, political and economic instability, violence," added the IOM representative.

Meanwhile, at least 36 migrants died trying to cross the Darién last year, although the number could be higher because many perish in the jungle without their remains being reported or recovered, the IOM said.

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