Another pandemic is being experienced on the Colombian-Panamanian border: one of the most acute migratory crises of the last decade. Ten thousand people – mostly Haitians, although there are also Cubans, Africans and Asians – remain stranded, waiting to take a boat that costs about $ 300 to cross by sea and leave Capurganá to Puerto Obaldia and from there to Central America and the United States. Those who do not have money try to cross the Darien jungle to reach Canaán-Membrillo or Bajo Chiquito, a daring that can cost them their lives. A dozen migrants have died so far this year 2021, seven drowned in rivers.
The migratory situation is mainly worrying due to the agglomeration of people in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic because it can cause a new outbreak of the disease, and new and dangerous variants may even arrive and complicate the health emergency.
Juan Rosales, medical director of the Darien Regional Ministry of Health (Minsa), is convinced that the considerable increase in migrants can generate an increase in covid-19 cases in the province, with the added risk of the introduction of the Delta variant, which circulates in Colombia, which is highly transmissible and aggressive.
Rosales recommends reinforcing biosecurity measures, spacing two meters and the mandatory use of masks. It is also necessary to increase the number of technicians, nurses and doctors who attend to migrants and carry out tests to diagnose the virus.
“The vigilance must be extreme. It will be necessary to carry out a greater number of tests due to the number of migrants and to detect the asymptomatic and the type of variant ”, concluded Rosales.
Enrique Mendoza, doctor and dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Panama, recommended that the authorities urgently concentrate on improving the living conditions in the facilities occupied by migrants on the border with Colombia, decongesting those that operate beyond their capacity, reinforcing epidemiological surveillance, including molecular epidemiology tests, to detect early the entry of any viral variant, such as Delta, to the national territory.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights addressed the health situation of the thousands of migrants and ordered their inclusion in the vaccination process.
“Panama should follow the example of the Republic of Serbia, which at the end of March, became one of the first European countries to start vaccinating its refugees, asylum seekers and other migrant populations living in reception centers and has including these populations in their national vaccination plan, ”Mendoza said.
Eduardo Leblanc, Defender of the People of Panama. however, he explained that the process is complicated by the very nature of migration and by the logistics of vaccination.
Migrants move rapidly from one area to another. “Probably when that migrant receives the second dose of the vaccine, he will be in Costa Rica,” explained the Ombudsman.
“We have sent a communication to the Ombudsman of Colombia to arrange a meeting in view of the fact that we have information that in Necloclí we have more than 10,000 migrants waiting to pass through Darien …”
Every day 800 people are crossing the border. And the forecasts indicate that the political, social and economic problems that Haiti and Cuba are facing will increase the migratory flow in the coming days, Leblanc explained.
Others, however, are dangerous criminals trying to escape justice. “Sixty people with reports of terrorism have been arrested in Panama,” explained Juan Manuel Pino, minister of security. Migrants are identified and nationality established. They all have to go through biometric screening and international verification.
The number of migrants crossing the border corridor is historical and not even the authorities themselves handle the exact figure with certainty.
The Ombudsman’s Office estimates that this year about 30,000 foreigners have crossed the border crossing. The Ministry of Security speaks of 42,000. Both numbers exceed the historical peak of 2016 with 25 thousand migrants. The last two months – June and July – are when the greatest number of migrants have reported.
According to the figures provided by the Ombudsman, there are now just over 2,300 migrants in transit in Panama: 1,300 at the Darien immigration stations, on the border with Colombia and another 1,072 in Gualaca, on the border with Costa Rica.
The unusual migratory flow has made the authorities set their sights on the issue. “I call on my peers in different countries to carry out joint actions that allow us to face the problem,” Carlos Camargo, Colombian Ombudsman, told The Associated Press news agency.
“Today we corroborate with the Foreign Minister @mluciaramirez of Colombia the plight of a large group of irregular migrants on their side of the border and we recall the need to coordinate safe passage for men, women and children who risk their lives for the Darien,” he said. Erika Mouynes, Panamanian Foreign Minister, through her social networks.
The Colombian-Panamanian border is legally closed. Migrants, however, enter by trails and roads taking advantage of the weaknesses of border security. And, once they enter there is no going back. Due to a humanitarian issue and the international treaties and conventions signed by Panama, it is impossible to send them back.
“It would be totally inhumane to tell a person who has spent 14 days in the jungle that, right there where you came from, he must return to Colombia. You have to let them pass, ”Leblanc added. Even more so when these people are just passing through.
Panama has proposed a discussion at the highest level to formulate rapid responses and definitive comprehensive solutions to this global phenomenon.
The intention is to achieve a robust commitment to ensure orderly migration, taking into account the rights of all human beings and freedom of movement, without putting life or integrity at risk, the Panamanian Foreign Minister explained.