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Panama, Costa Rica agree to a plan to speed migrants passing through from Darien Gap

Migrants line up
Arnulfo Franco
Migrants heading north line up to take a boat in Bajo Chiquito in the Darien province of Panama, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023, after walking across the Darien Gap from Colombia. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

PANAMA CITY — Panama and Costa Rica announced a plan to quickly bus thousands of migrants through Panama to the Costa Rican border, as the countries continue to grapple with a steady increase in the number of migrants moving through the jungle-clad Darien Gap.

Panama estimates that 420,700 migrants have crossed the Gap from Colombia to Panama so far this year, making it likely the full-year number will top a half million.

Industrial-scale smuggling operations in Colombia have now reduced the dangerous crossing to a little over two days for the strongest walkers. The expedited bus service in Panama will likely decrease further the amount of time migrants take to reach the U.S. border, now down to about two and a half weeks.

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Panama hopes the new plan will disrupt the smuggling networks that charge migrants to get through the country, as well as reduce crowding at reception camps in Panama where migrants stay once they exit the Darien Gap trail.

Panama's National Immigration Service said 30 buses carried a group of almost 1,600 migrants Tuesday from Panama to a Costa Rican migrant center in Corredores, just inside Costa Rica.

In April, the U.S., Panama and Colombia announced a campaign to slow migration through the Darien jungle, but migrants’ numbers have only grown forcing the Biden administration to seek other options.

The majority of the migrants are from Venezuela, with others from Ecuador, Colombia and Haiti.

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