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US, Panama sign deal to curb migration across the Darien Gap

July 2, 2024

Hundreds of thousands of migrants have traversed the notorious Darien jungle by foot and continued to the US border. Panama's new President Jose Raul Mulino has vowed to close the route to "illegal migrants."

People, as seen here, continue to make their way through the Darien even it carries risks
People continue to make their way through the Darien even it carries risksImage: Ivan Valencia/AP/picture alliance

The US and Panama have signed an agreement to curb the flow of migration to the southern US border through the Darien Gap, the Central American government announced Monday.

Panamanian President Jose Raul Mulino, who took office on Monday, told the people in his first speech  that he would seek international assistance to find solutions to what he described as a costly "humanitarian and environmental crisis."

Minutes later, Mulino's new foreign minister signed a memorandum of understanding with the US to "allow the closing off of the passing of illegal immigrants through the Darien," Panama's government said.

The US agreed to "cover" the costs of repatriating migrants who enter Panama illegally, the agreement signed by US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said. Mayorkas attended Mulino's inauguration.

The agreement was "designed to jointly reduce the number of migrants being cruelly smuggled through the Darien, usually en route to the United States," a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council said in a statement.

Thousands risk brutal crossing of Darien Gap into Panama

The Darien Gap, a 160-mile (257-kilometer) space between Colombia and Panama, is the only land route to the US from South America. 

The perilous jungle, which just a few years ago was seen as an impassable barrier, has in recent years seen people make the trek in search of better opportunities in the US.

Hundreds of thousands traverse the Darien corridor

Last year, a record 520,000 migrants, including thousands of children, traversed the perilous corridor by foot.

More than 190,000 people have crossed so far in 2024, with most migrants hailing from Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia and China.

The route grew in popularity in recent years as smugglers made it an affordable pathway for hundreds of thousands of people.

But the trek is a highly dangerous one — people face treacherous terrain, wild animals and criminal gangs that extort and abuse them.

Mulino says he understands 'deep-rooted reasons' for migration but solutions were key

"I won't allow Panama to be an open path for thousands of people who enter our country illegally, supported by an international organization related to drug trafficking and human trafficking," Mulino, a former security minister, said on Monday.

"I understand that there are deep-rooted reasons for migration, but each country has to resolve its problems," he added. 

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mk/rm (AFP, AP, Reuters)