PANAMA CITY — The United States, Panama and Colombia announced Tuesday a 60-day campaign to stop illegal migration through the treacherous Darien Gap, where the influx of migrants has multiplied this year.
The joint statement did not provide details on how the governments are trying to stem the influx of nearly 90,000 migrants in the dense, lawless jungle in the first three months of this year.
The ambitious announcement comes as the Biden administration nervously awaits the expected end of the pandemic-related May 11 rule that suspended asylum for many. Without a deterrent at the US border, there is concern that migrants could once again become unmanageable.
According to the joint statement, the countries “will use new legal and flexible routes for tens of thousands of migrants and refugees as an alternative to illegal migration”, but no details were provided this time either.
The third element of the plan is investments aimed at reducing poverty and creating jobs in the Colombian and Panamanian border communities, presumably thus reducing the number of people working in migrant smuggling.
“Recognizing our shared interest and responsibility to prevent risk to human life, disrupt transnational criminal organizations, and preserve vital rainforests, the governments of Panama, Colombia, and the United States intend to launch a two-month coordinated campaign to address this issue. serious humanitarian situation in the Darién,” the statement said.
US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas met with the foreign ministers of Panama and Colombia on Tuesday in Panama.
According to the Panamanian government, more than 87,000 migrants crossed the Darien Gap in the first three months of the year, mainly from Venezuela, Haiti and Ecuador. This was more than 14,000 migrants in the same period of the previous year.
Last year, the number of migrants using the Darien route set a record, nearly 250,000. This increase was largely caused by Venezuelans, who made up about 60% of migrants passing through there last year.
The Biden administration responded in October by using the pandemic-related rule known as Title 42 to deny Venezuelans the ability to seek asylum at the border. Instead, the U.S. government said it would accept up to 24,000 Venezuelans at U.S. airports who have already applied and been pre-approved through the government’s online application. This program was expanded to Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba earlier this year.
Now that Title 42 is set to expire next month, the United States is looking to the Darien Gap as a natural choke point to stop extracontinental migration.
The Darien Gap is one of the most dangerous stretches of the long road to the US border. Migrants and international human rights groups have condemned sexual assaults, robberies and murders in the remote jungle. This is in addition to the natural hazards of venomous snakes and rushing rivers.
For migrants who survive the crossing, the Panamanian government and non-governmental groups bus the migrants to the Panamanian border with Costa Rica to continue their journey.