Panama blasts Colombia for inaction on Darien Gap migrants

By Elida Moreno

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) – The head of Panama’s migration agency lashed out at Colombia on Friday, slamming its southern neighbor for failure to help control the flow of mostly U.S.-bound migrants passing through the dangerous Darien Gap amid a surge of people traveling north.

Samira Gozaine, head of Panama’s national migration service, lamented the failure to reach any agreement with Colombia to promote legal transit of the up to 2,800 migrants a day that unlawfully cross their shared border.

“For Panama, this is a crisis, but unfortunately with Colombia we have not been able to reach any kind of understanding,” Gozaine said in a statement released on Friday.

She said the situation has only gotten worse, and called out Colombian officials for failing to share information with Panamanian counterparts.

Colombia’s government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The dense tropical jungle of the 60-mile (97-km) Darien Gap links Panama and Colombia, covering a missing section on the Pan-American highway, which stretches from Alaska to Argentina. The Gap, known for harboring criminal gangs and smugglers, has become a major transit point for throngs of desperate migrants seeking a better life in the United States.

Late last month, Panama’s security ministry released data showing that the number of individual crossings of the Darien Gap reached an all-time high of nearly 250,000 in the first seven months of the year. That already surpasses the number of crossings for all of 2022.

Panamanian officials have also had to deport many Colombian nationals, Gozaine said, most having criminal records.

“The only thing that Panama can do is manage the flow and permit (migrants) to keep traveling north and try to minimize the damage to Panama,” she said.

(Reporting by Elida Moreno; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Tom Hogue)