Nationwide Protests in Panama Complicates Migrant Situation

Migrants at the reception station of the Lajas Blancas indigenous district, in eastern Panama, after crossing the dangerous Darien jungle. The strike and protests that Panama is experiencing make it difficult to transit to Costa Rica in an attempt to reach North America. Photo: Gema Cortés/IOM

By IPS

HAVANA TIMES – The national strike in Panama, with numerous protests and blockades of the Interamerican Highway and other roads, is complicating the situation of hundreds of migrants who enter this country every day on their way north, reported a team on the ground from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

In the eastern province of Darien, from where many migrants enter from Colombia, there is a lack of food, gas, gasoline, and cash.  Likewise, there are interruptions in electricity, telephone, and water services, in addition to the indefinite closure of schools and roads, according to the report.

The region includes the Darien Gap, shared by Panama and Colombia, a dangerous area of ​​5,000 square kilometers of jungles, rivers, swamps, and steep mountains, with a National Park and no roads, used by thousands of migrants to undertake their land journey into Central America.

According to the Panamanian Immigration Service, during the year 2022, 48,430 people have entered through the dangerous Darién Jungle. These included 7,282 children and adolescents (15%) And there are 170 children and adolescents who after the crossing arrived separated or unaccompanied by adults.

It was indicated that 58% of this migrant population (26,079) have Venezuelan nationality, while 7.9% are from Haiti, 5.2% from Cuba, 3.3% from Ecuador and 3.2% from Senegal.

Added to the dangers of the jungle itself in the Darien are those of human traffickers and gangs of assailants, who make migrants victims of scams, robberies and physical and sexual violence.

So far this year, the death of 22 migrants has been verified in the dangerous trek, although it is presumed that the figure is much higher due to the fact that numerous crossings are undertaken irregularly and without any registration.

On the other hand, the closure of highways throughout the country meant that transport companies, used by migrants to cross the isthmus to Costa Rica, could not continue operating.

Migrant stations beyond capacity

Given the closure of the Pan-American highway, the San Vicente Migratory Reception Station in the province of Darien, with a maximum capacity of 250 people, has housed more than 900, exceeding its capacity by more than 300%.

Given the saturation and the sustained entry of 300 to 500 people per day through the jungle, the Panamanian State temporarily reopened another receiving station, in the town of Lajas Blancas, in the Embera-Wounaan indigenous communijty.

That station, with a capacity for 500 people, has already reached 1,231, according to the report released on Wednesday July 20th.

Another Emberá indigenous community, Canaán Membrillo, with 350 inhabitants and capacity for 100 migrants, has received more than 3,300 people.

The uncertainty of the reopening of the roads and the saturation of the centers has led some migrants to continue their route to Panama Ciy on foot.

Following negotiations with the leaders of the various roadblocks, a “humanitarian corridor” was established that has allowed more than 4,200 migrants to reach the Costa Rican border by bus.

Protestors’ demands

Since July 7, teachers’ associations, unions, and social and community organizations have taken to the streets of several locations in the country, demanding that the government immediately adopt measures to guarantee a cap on the price of fuel and the reduction of basic food prices.

The government has already agreed that gasoline and diesel be sold at a maximum of $3.25 a gallon (86 cents a liter), instead of the previous lowered price of $3.95 a gallon (1.05 dollars a liter) announced by President Cortizo.

The protests also demand access to medicines with prices adjusted to the purchasing power of the popular sectors and call for an efficient and transparent use of public funds.

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