Panamanian authorities have detected terrorists trying to blend in with the unprecedented number of migrants from Haiti, Cuba, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East attempting to reach the U.S. and Canada through the Central American country, the country’s top diplomat warned.
Erika Mouynes, the foreign minister in Panama, wrote an article published by Foreign Policy (FP) pleading for help from the U.S., where many of these migrants who escape apprehension intend to go, and the international community, describing the situation as a humanitarian crisis.
The Darien Gap, one of the last untapped tropical forests in the Americas, is a lawless and dense wilderness stretch straddling Colombia and Panama. Some analysts consider the region the most hazardous trail for migrants fleeing war, persecution, and poverty.
Migrants make their way into Panama by entering South America in places with lax visa rules, then make their way to Colombia.
Minister Mouynes urged Latin American countries to take steps to address the growing influx of migration transiting through their territory, first by strengthening their visa requirements background checks, adding:
A vast number of migrants crossing the Darién [jungle] started their journey in South America, arriving through ports of entry in countries where visa requirements are less strict. As a result, members of terrorist organizations and sanctioned parties have found their way into Panama, where they are not permitted to enter in the first place. Panama’s biometric identification measures have recognized and detained individuals linked to extremist groups attempting to pass through the country with migrants.
Second, the nations of the Americas must work collaboratively to control the flow of migration. Since 2016, the governments of Panama and Costa Rica have worked together to put in place a joint policy to secure safe passage of migrants through our territories based on each country’s ability to ensure migrants’ care and safety. Panama has also recently reached an information-sharing agreement with Colombia to monitor the flows of migrants headed for the Darién Gap. Currently, more than 1,000 migrants arrive in Panama every day from Colombia, and only 50 to 100 are allowed to proceed into Costa Rica. Needless to say, the situation is untenable.
On June 3, Bloomberg News learned from Mouynes that the country was struggling to handle a five-fold increase in migrants from Africa, Asia, Cuba, and Haiti, entering the Central American country’s territory illegally through the Darien jungle. Migrants from Haiti and Cuba made up the bulk of the people trying to enter Panama illegally at the time.
It appears the migration flow has intensified in the last few weeks with Mouynes writing for FP:
The problem of uncontrolled migration is not isolated to Texas, California, New Mexico, or Arizona. Farther south, on the Panamanian border, a parallel crisis is unfolding as unprecedented numbers of migrants from Haiti, Cuba, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East attempt to cross the Darién Gap en route to Canada and the United States. The situation here is not a uniquely North American or Panamanian problem. It is an international humanitarian crisis that knows no borders and requires immediate collaboration. Panama, for our part, looks forward to working closely with the Biden administration to formulate an effective policy response.
An increase in illegal migrants entering Panama has served as a warning for a looming wave of people from outside the Americas heading to the U.S.
Mouynes wrote that her government agrees with the Biden administration’s policy to address the root causes of migration that drive people to leave their homes to solve the illegal migration problem, a task the U.S. president has assigned to his Vice President Kamala Harris.
However, the Panamanian official indicated that Harris has been silent about the surge of migrants in her country, potentially including some seeking to cause havoc in the United States.
Referring to VP Harris’s trip to Central America on June 7 and 8, she wrote:
Unfortunately, however, Panama was left off the itinerary of her two-day trip, which included stops in Guatemala and Mexico. This despite the unprecedented number of migrants attempting to cross our border through a treacherous area of jungle known as the Darien Gap.
Members from both parties, the White House, and many voters were dismayed at Harris’s performance during her trip early this month, her first as VP.
The foreign minister warned that the migrant issue would only compound absent any action from the international community, noting that its impact will reach beyond Panama’s borders.
Some critics have blamed President Joe Biden’s lenient border security policies for incentivizing migrants from all over the world to make their way to the U.S.