PANAMA CITY, Oct 10 (Reuters) – More than 150,000 migrants so far this year have made the treacherous crossing across the Darien jungle which links Panama with Colombia, a record figure according to official data.
Panama’s National Migration Service (SNM) said on Monday that 151,582 migrants made the crossing between January and September, fleeing poverty and violence with the hope of reaching the United States. This includes some 21,570 minors.
The figure, which surpasses the 133,726 who made the crossing throughout last year, may have exceeded 160,000 in the first days of October, according to Panama’s ombudsman office, with the vast majority coming from Venezuela.
“There has already been an unprecedented number of Venezuelans who have put their lives at risk by crossing the dense jungle between Central and South America,” the head of the International Organization for Migration’s mission in Panama, Giuseppe Loprete, told Reuters.
Loprete said new visa entry requirements for Venezuelans in some countries, an additional cost many cannot afford, may be helping drive irregular migration.
The SNM reported 107,692 migrants from Venezuela, followed by 8,613 from Haiti.
Panama says it is the only country which offers migrants humanitarian and health assistance along the Darien Gap, and has asked for help from neighboring countries to address the crisis.
After crossing the jungle, authorities transfer the migrants to reception points and transport them to the border with Costa Rica, where they can continue their journey.
Last week, its security minister said it was necessary to increase security in the border region to prevent migrants from falling victim to crime, as larger groups cross the jungle during the region’s rainy season.
Panama’s border agency Senafront said in September at least 18 migrants are known to have died this year crossing the Darien jungle.