PANAMA CITY, Panama – The governments of Panama and Colombia agreed on Wednesday to impose a daily limit on the number of migrants passing through the densely forested and roadless Darien Gap on the border between the two countries.
The plan aims to limit crossings to 650 migrants per day in August and 500 in September. Migrants, mainly Cubans and Haitians, use wilderness routes to travel from South America to Panama to reach Mexico and then the US border. Some people from Venezuela, Africa and southern Asia also use this route.
So far this year, Panama estimates that more than 50,000 migrants have arrived via the dangerous Darien route, nearly double the number in 2018. Officials say about 16% of them are children or youth.
Samira Gozain, director of Panama’s immigration service, said the deal would lead to reform.
“This is very positive for us, because Panama has seen days in which we get 1,500 or 2,000 migrants a day,” Gozzine. “In a week, we got 10,000.”
An estimated 15,000 migrants are currently on their way to Panama via Colombia.
The agreement was reached during a teleconference between officials from Panama and Colombia, which was also attended by representatives from Mexico, the United States, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica and Peru.
The two countries said they would also cooperate in prosecuting criminal gangs that rob migrants and traffic drugs in largely roadless areas.
It remains to be seen how effective this agreement works. Efforts from both countries may force some migrants to pass through even more difficult terrain.
Currently, the most common migrant route runs from the Ecuadorian border through Colombia to the city of Necocli, where ferries take people across the Gulf of Uraba to the even smaller border town of Capragna, Colombia. From there, they head to the Darien Gap.
There has been a sharp jump in the number of migrants since last year, when pandemic restrictions reduced mobility for locals and migrants alike.
Panama and Colombia depict borders as an attempt to ensure the safety of migrants.
The goal is to have “as many migrants as can be safely received from the Panamanian side,” Panamanian Foreign Minister Erica Moynes said during a visit to the region last week.
His Colombian counterpart, Marta Lucía Ramírez de Rincón, who also traveled, echoed that concern, saying that ideally, they don’t want “they pass through Darien, where we know there are a lot of risks.”
Recent rains have made the crossing even more dangerous.
“It’s a really worrying situation, because if crossing the forest during the dry season was dangerous, it’s even more dangerous now,” said Santiago Paz, who works for the UN International Organization for Migration.