PANAMA CITY (AP) — The number of migrants crossing Panama’s dangerous, jungle-clad Darien Gap swelled to almost 250,000 in the first seven months of 2023, surpassing the number that crossed in all of 2022, officials said Friday.
It is a record pace of migration through the gap, which connects South America to Central America. The surge comes despite an agreement announced in April between the United States, Colombia and Panama to offer alternatives to migration.
The United Nations projects that if the pace keeps up, as many as 400,000 may cross the gap by the year’s end. Experts say it would be hard to crack down on the smuggling gangs that operate the route.
Panama’s National Immigration service said 248,901 migrants had made the trip through July 31, and that 21% of those crossing were children or adolescents.
Security Minister Juan Manuel Pino confirmed that was higher than last year’s total.
Migrants from South America — mainly Venezuelans — use the Darien Gap to travel be land through Central America and to the U.S. southwestern border. But a host of people from other places, including Africa and Asia, travel to South America to use the gap as well.
In April, The United States, Panama and Colombia said in a joint statement said the countries will use “new lawful and flexible pathways for tens of thousands of migrants and refugees as an alternative to irregular migration.”
The also involved investment to reduce poverty and create jobs in the Colombian and Panamanian border communities, presumably so fewer people work at smuggling migrants.