The number of people arriving in the treacherous Darien Gap linking Panama with Colombia soared in April and early May, Panamanian government data shows, dealing a blow to U.S. efforts to curb undocumented migration to the north.
According to figures from Panama’s Security Ministry, 40,297 migrants reached Panama through the jungle connecting it with Colombia in April, up more than six times from the same time last year.
Numbers have kept rising, with 16,246 crossings during the first nine days of May, already surpassing the total of that month in 2022, reinforcing fears among authorities of a rise in migration to the United States as its COVID-19 restrictions known as Title 42 are lifted.
The United States, Panama and Colombia announced on April 11 a two-month campaign to tackle undocumented migration through the lawless jungle region.
Earlier on Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden said the border would be “chaotic for a while” after Title 42 is lifted at midnight on May 11. He spent more than an hour speaking to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador about border security.
Lopez Obrador said on Twitter they had discussed their commitment to work together on migration, as well as drugs and arms trafficking.
Title 42, in place since 2020, allows U.S. authorities to quickly expel migrants to Mexico without the chance of seeking U.S. asylum.
Illegal crossings from Colombia to Panama through the Darien Gap reached 127,687 in the first four months of 2023, far outnumbering the 19,925 reported in the same period last year, according to official data.
A delegation of Panamanian officials, including Foreign Minister Janaina Tewaney, met U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas in Washington on Tuesday to discuss the “migration crisis,” Panama said in a statement.
U.S. officials and lawmakers have said the plan to contain crossings at the Darien Gap is one of the main pillars of efforts to reduce migration.