US and Panama sign agreement that aims to close the Darién Gap to ‘illegal migrants’

The US and Panama have signed an agreement on immigration issues that aims to “close the passage of illegal migrants” through the Darién Gap, the Central American government announced Monday.

“In the agreement signed today by the Panamanian Foreign Minister Javier Martínez-Acha and the Secretary of Homeland Security of the United States Alejandro Mayorcas, the US government undertakes to cover the cost of the repatriation of immigrants who enter illegally through Darién,” the Panama government said in a statement.

It said that under the memorandum of understanding the US would also support Panama with “equipment, transportation and logistics” regarding foreigners found “in violation of the immigration laws of Panama.”

Panama agreed to “comply with all international agreements and conventions on the rights of immigrants and those in refugee status,” it added.

Panama is home to the Darién Gap, a mountainous rainforest region connecting South and Central America, that has seen an increase in the number of migrants willing to risk their lives and safety to cross it. The 66-mile (106-kilometer) hike through the Darien Gap brings migrants from Colombia to Panama and is a crucial passage for those hoping to reach the United States and Canada.

News of the agreement comes after Panama’s new President Jose Raul Mulino vowed on Monday that the Central American nation would no longer be a country of transit for migrants.

“I will not allow Panama to be a path open to thousands of people who enter our country illegally supported by an entire international organization related to drug and human trafficking,” Mulino said at his swearing-in ceremony.

“Panama will no longer be a transit country for illegals,” he said amid cheers from those present.

“The numbers of illegal immigrants passing through the Darién are shocking,” Mulino said, adding that he intends to “appeal to international solidarity regarding the cause that generates the problem and will seek solutions with the countries involved, especially with the United States, which is the final destination of such immigrants.”

Mulino said that he’s seen first-hand “the magnitude of the problem and the dimension of the humanitarian and environmental crisis” that migration causes to the Darién Gap.

“The Darién must continue to be a great green lung, not only for us but for the entire region. We must defend it and take care of it. Its biodiversity cannot be put at risk by illicit activities.”

Panamanian figures show at least 174,513 migrants crossed the treacherous Darién Gap, from January to June 6 of this year.

The latest figures are higher than around the same period in 2023, when more than 166,000 crossings were reported, according to Panama’s National Migration Service. According to migration service figures, a record 520,000 people crossed the jungle last year.

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