Venezuelan migrants arrive at Canaan Membrillo village, the first border control of the Darien province in Panama, on Oct 13, 2022. (PHOTO / AFP)
PANAMA CITY — More than 400,000 migrants could cross the treacherous Darien Gap linking Panama with Colombia this year, the United Nations said on Friday, well up from nearly 250,000 in 2022 as the number of people making the journey surged over recent months.
In the first months of 2023, some 100,000 migrants have crossed the dangerous stretch of jungle, six times more than in the same period the previous year, the UN said, citing government figures.
"After 2022 was a record year, in which nearly 250,000 refugees and migrants risked their lives crossing the Darien in search of protection and better opportunities, the first quarter of 2023 points to an increase," the UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a statement.
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Panama is facing one of the most challenging migrant crises in a decade, the humanitarian organizations added.
Migrants crossing the Darien Gap are mostly from Venezuela, while Haitians and Ecuadoreans make up the next two largest groups.
The organizations warned that these migrants are exposed to disease, violence, sexual abuse and human trafficking crossing through the jungle, and they called for work on regional solutions.
This week, the United States, Panama and Colombia agreed to launch a two-month campaign to tackle undocumented immigration through the Darien, aiming to end the illicit movement of people.