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Panama’s Darien Gap Dilemma: Scaling Up Deportations

Panama plans to enhance the infrastructure within the dense jungle region along its shared boundary with Colombia, commonly referred to as the Darien Gap. Additionally, they will intensify efforts to repatriate individuals in order to …

Panama plans to enhance the infrastructure within the dense jungle region along its shared boundary with Colombia, commonly referred to as the Darien Gap. Additionally, they will intensify efforts to repatriate individuals in order to manage an unprecedented surge of migrants traversing this area during the current year. This announcement was made by Panama’s head of immigration on Friday.

Charter Flights for Increased Deportations

Samira Gozaine, the Director of the National Immigration Authority, revealed that President Laurentino Cortizo had granted authorization for the utilization of charter flights to facilitate increased deportations. Since the start of this year, approximately 350,000 migrants have navigated the perilous Darien Gap, surpassing last year’s already record-breaking figure of fewer than 250,000.

«We intend to augment these deportations to ensure a more substantial impact,» stated Gozaine. In addition, authorities have disclosed plans to erect facilities in the border regions, where migrants will undergo registration, while maintaining separation from local communities. 

Gozaine pointed out that due to a lack of resources, the Panamanian government will not be able to carry out mass deportations. Therefore, they will initially focus on individuals with criminal backgrounds.

«Obviously, our resources are limited, and ideally, if 3,000 people enter Panama irregularly, we would deport all 3,000. However, it’s unfeasible and not operationally viable,» stated the official.

Strengthening Entry Requirements

As of now, there has been no immediate response from Colombian officials. Panama also intends to bolster entry requirements for select foreign travelers arriving by air. Specifically, the nation will reduce the maximum allowable tourist stay from 90 days to 15 days and require visitors to demonstrate access to a minimum of $1,000, as opposed to the current requirement of $500. Gozaine clarified that these changes will not be universally applicable to all nationalities. 

Venezuelan nationals have comprised more than 50% of the migrant population entering Panama via the Darien Gap this year. Historically, Panama has prioritized the swift transport of migrants by bus from its border with Colombia to its border with Costa Rica, enabling them to continue their journey northward towards the United States.

Despite the dangers that abound, foreigners are crossing the treacherous Darien Gap, facing risks such as wild animals, swift rivers, and criminal gangs. 

Panama is addressing the unprecedented migration flow through the challenging Darien Gap, with a focus on scaling up deportations to manage the crisis effectively.

Criticism and National Security Concerns

This has prompted the Panamanian government, with the assistance of international organizations, to establish several shelters throughout the country.

In April, the United States, Panama, and Colombia entered into an agreement aimed at combating the networks engaged in smuggling migrants through this region.

Panama has criticized other South American countries, accusing them of a supposed lack of cooperation in containing the migratory flow, particularly from Colombia.

«Panama has managed this flow responsibly, but we are already at the limit of our capacities because the overflow of people is now massive,» stated the Minister of Security, Juan Manuel Pino.

On August 23rd, Pino announced that the Panamanian government would take «decisive» measures to curb the migratory wave through the Darien Gap.

«This migration is no longer humane; it has become a matter of national security,» Pino emphasized.

«Some countries have not given the necessary attention to this migratory phenomenon,» he added.

Panamanian Foreign Minister Janaina Tewaney disclosed last Wednesday that Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo would meet this month with his Colombian counterpart, Gustavo Petro, during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, to address, among other issues, the migration crisis.

«The migration issue is on everyone’s minds,» Tewaney acknowledged.


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