UNITED STATES: Thousands of migrants are stranded in a Colombian port town waiting for boats to cross into neighbouring Panama on their way to the United States, a state relief agency said on Tuesday.
The Gulf of Uraba, on Colombia’s northern coast, becomes one of the main transit points for refugees from nearby Latin American nations as well as Asia and Africa, trying to cross a jungle corridor known as the Darien Gap, leading into Panama.
The end destination for such refugees is usually the United States.
But in recent weeks, the number of migrants arriving in the municipality of Necocli has swelled and is exhausting the local shipping company that transports people across the gulf into Panama’s southern jungle, the municipal disaster management agency said.
In the absence of land crossings to the border, “the company takes around 700 to 750 (migrants) but at night 1,000, 1,100, 1,200 more arrive,” head of the disaster management unit, Cesar Zuniga, told AFP.
More than 10,000 migrants had now accumulated in the municipality of 45,000 people, many have taken shelter in local hotels or rented rooms, Zuniga added.
Dozens of migrants, including pregnant women and children, were seen crowded on the beach waiting for a spot on a boat in images shared by local authorities.
In January, due to Covid-19 border restrictions, hundreds of migrants were trapped in Necocli beach living in makeshift tents on the beach.
“This time it is different,” said Zuniga. “There is no forced border closure, the build-up is due to the operational and logistical inability of the transport company,” Zuniga said.
In May, Colombia reopened its land, river, and sea borders with Panama, Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil, after being shut for more than a year due to the pandemic. It reopened borders with Venezuela earlier in July.
After an already record-breaking year in 2019, with the majority of refugees hosted in countries neighbouring crisis areas, a United Nations report in June this year showed global displacement figures swelled to around three million in 2020.
Colombia hosts the world’s second-largest refugee population with 1.7 million displaced people living in the country, the UN said in the report.