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Panama Tightens Border Control Closing Darién Gap Route; US Agrees to Cover Migrant Repatriation Costs

Border control checkpoint illustration.

Panama to Close Darién Gap Route, US to Foot Bill for Migrant Repatriation

Inaugural Pledge by New President

Amidst the migrant crisis, the newly elected President of Panama, José Raúl Mulino, has vowed to increase border control. It will effectively close the treacherous Darién Gap—a popular route used by many migrants fleeing to the United States. The decision came after a mutual agreement in which the US has committed to cover the costs of the repatriation of migrants entering Panama illegally.

During his first presidential address, Mulino promised to seek international help to combat the “humanitarian and environmental crisis” the country is facing due to the escalating illegal immigration.

The Growing Migrant Crisis

Over the last year, an alarming 520,000 migrants risked their lives to cross the Darién Gap. The Darién Gap is a dense jungle terrain on the border of Panama and Colombia, frequently traversed by people from numerous countries hoping to reach the United States. Mulino noted that the increase in illegal immigration brought about a surge in international criminal activity and financial constraints for Panama.

Panama’s newly appointed foreign minister promptly signed a memorandum of understanding with the US government, confirming their shared commitment to reducing the number of migrants smuggled through the Darién area.

The US-Panama Agreement

The US homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, who was present at Mulino’s inauguration, signed the agreement with Panama. As part of the deal, the US pledged to cover the repatriation costs for migrants who have entered Panama illegally.

The mutual agreement aims at preventing the smuggling of migrants through the Darién Gap, who are predominantly en route to the United States. This move, in turn, is expected to discourage irregular migration in that region, and halt the enrichment of injurious smuggling networks exploiting susceptible migrants, according to a spokesperson from the White House national security council.

Building Panama’s Capacity

US homeland security teams stationed in Panama will assist the Panama government to train its personnel. This affords Panama an opportunity to build, enhance and expand its knowledge and ability to ascertain which migrants, under Panama’s immigration laws, should be repatriated.

The costs of repatriation (including charter flights or commercial airplane tickets) for the migrants will be covered by the US.

The Darién Gap: A Superhighway for Migrants

Despite its treacherous terrain, the Darién Gap has served as a popular corridor for migrants from across the southern hemisphere and beyond, who aim to reach the United States. In 2024 alone, over 190,000 migrants crossed it, with the majority hailing from Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, and China.

A Controversial Topic in the US

Immigration in the US has proven to be a sensitive issue during election years. With former president Donald Trump consistently highlighting the importance of controlling immigration, the current administration has been under increased pressure to manage the situation effectively. A recent executive order limiting immigration marked the lowest undocumented crossings at the US’s southern border since president Joe Biden‘s tenure.


Panama Tightens Border Control Closing Darién Gap Route; US Agrees to Cover Migrant Repatriation Costs

HERE Irmo
Author: HERE Irmo

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