By Karol Suarez and Tara John | CNN
The number of migrants crossing the treacherous Darien Gap, a mountainous rainforest region that connects South and Central America, has broken a new record, according to immigration officials in Panama.
The Panama migration authority’s deputy director Maria Isabel Saravia told media that 2022’s already-high number of crossings was surpassed on Monday.
Last year was an “unprecedented year” where a total of 248,284 people crossed the Darién National Park, she said. 2023 now looks set to outstrip that number as the year continues.
“With today and yesterday’s crossings of 1,869 people, there have been 248,901 crossings,” Saravia said Monday.
Around 20% of the people making the dangerous trek are children and adolescents, authorities say.
“Within that age group, at least 51% are five-year-old children or under. As the figures anticipated, we exceeded last year’s number (…) The last three years have been much higher than the last 11 years in crossings,” Saravia added.
Venezuelans and Haitians represent the majority of the people crossing, followed by Colombians, Ecuadorians, and migrants from outside the continent, she said.
The 60-kilometer (37 mile) hike through the Darien Gap brings migrants from Colombia to Panama and is a crucial passage for those hoping to reach the United States and Canada.
Mass migration across the Western Hemisphere has fueled a growing number of people moving north.
But after officials warned that a surge in illegal migration across the US southern border would accompany the May expiration of a Trump-era border restriction, used in the pandemic to turn back migrants at the US-Mexico border, the number of daily encounters along the US border remained low in June.
“As a result of planning and execution – which combined stiffer consequences for unlawful entry with a historic expansion of lawful pathways and processes – unlawful entries between ports of entry along the Southwest Border have decreased by more than 70 percent since May 11,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a news release in June.
It is unclear whether the deterrent effect will last, and human rights advocates say migrants, who were fleeing danger in their home countries, are now living in limbo in Mexico as they wait for their asylum claims.
Others are being forced to take increasingly risky paths to reach the US, advocates said. In June, dozens of people were found dead inside a semi-truck in Texas.