Panama to intensify deportations, enforce border with Colombia to halt 'illegal' Darién Gap crossings

Statistics collected by Panama's Department of Migration showed that over 350,000 illegal immigrants have crossed the Darien Gap so far in 2023.

Panama to intensify deportations, enforce border with Colombia to halt 'illegal' Darién Gap crossings
AP Photo/Ivan Valencia, File
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While Canada continues to ignore ‘mass migration’ as a problem, the Central American nation of Panama intends to crackdown on illegal immigration moving forward.

The once loosely guarded border between Panama and Colombia has seen a record number of people try and cross the inhospitable Darién Gap in 2023.

Panamanian authorities told reporters on September 8 that they will increase deportations, build new installations along the southern border with Colombia and toughen requirements for foreigners to stay in the country short-term.

“We will increase these deportations so that the required impact is felt,” said National Immigration Authority Director Samira Gozaine, prioritizing people with a prior criminal record.

The announcement stems from a trilateral agreement reached in April by the U.S., Panama and Colombia to “end” mass migration through the Gap.

Statistics collected by Panama's Department of Migration showed that over 350,000 people have navigated the perilous terrain so far in 2023.

In March, the Department of Migration said about 800 people a day entered the Darién Gap in January and February — usually the slowest period of the year.

During the same two months last year, about 150 people crossed the Gap daily, with 250,000 people total for the entire year. 

Gozaine informed the Panamanian press that President Laurentino Cortizo would soon charter flights out of the country to facilitate deportation efforts. 

Additionally, they would restrict tourists of select nationalities to visit the country no more than 15 days, while demonstrating they have at least $1,000 in funds.

The Immigration Authority Official clarified these requirements will be in place to curb violence and the expansion of criminal networks along the Darién Gap.

"We are very concerned about the situation, especially because in these months normally it's calmer, and then later we see the peak," said Giuseppe Loprete of the UN's International Organization of Migration in Panama.

"Criminal networks are getting stronger. It's a huge business," he said.

According to the UN, an unprecedented 400,000 people are expected to enter Panama from South America by the end of the year — with one in five being children.

Between August and October 2021, more than 25,000 people crossed the Darién Gap monthly, rising the following year from 30,000 in August to 60,000 in October.

In January and February of 2021, only 50 people a day entered the region illegally.

Last March, Tyler Mattiace of Human Rights Watch expected summer 2023 to smash all previous records.

"This huge increase that we're seeing in the number of people crossing the Darién indicates, first of all, that the root causes driving people to flee their countries and to attempt to travel north to reach the United States have gotten worse," he said.

"It indicates that 2023 will be the year with possibly the highest number of people crossing the Darién in history" with most who crossed the Darién in January and February not reaching the U.S. border yet.

U.S. officials outsourced much migration enforcement to Mexico and Central American countries, with the Biden administration increasingly concerned about more illegal crossings and their effect on the 2024 election.

On March 24, the country reached an agreement with Canada to accept 15,000 illegal immigrants from Central and South America in exchange for the closure of Roxham Road.

"We will continue to increase the number of asylum seekers who are particularly accepted from the [Western] hemisphere to compensate for the closure of these irregular passages," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau then at a joint press conference with U.S. President Joe Biden.

Last year, 39,171 illegal immigrants entered Canada illegally through Roxham Road — many who traversed the Darién Gap to come here.

"The numbers don't lie: illegal border crossings and illegal drug trafficking are increasing along America's northern border," said Matt Knoedler, spokesperson to Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly, who is a founding member of the Northern Border Security Caucus.

Among the illegal immigrants who crossed the Gap in January and February are Haitians, who constitute 16,744 of the 49,291 people who entered Panama then.

On March 22, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby did not disclose whether Biden would demand Trudeau take in more Haitians directly.

"They share a concern about the dire situation down there from a security and humanitarian perspective — this is not unfamiliar to either the prime minister or the president," said Kirby.

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