Thousands of migrants line up upon arrival at the town of Bajo Chiquito in Panama.
Photo: EFE – Welcome Velasco
“Not anymore (I want to go to the US). It is no longer a secret that everything is closed. For my part, I would like to return,” Venezuelan Carlos Figueroa, 28, told EFE from a Panamanian shelter in an area of the Darién jungle along with thousands of migrants and after learning that the United States closed its land borders to all Venezuelan nationals arriving by land.
“That’s psychological warfare,” another migrant interrupts him at the San Vicente immigration reception station -one of the two humanitarian shelters maintained by Panama- where passers-by arrive after crossing the Darién Gap, the dangerous jungle shared by Panama and Colombia as a border, along the Canaan Membrillo route for almost a week.
Figueroa says goodbye to the “American dream” because in the shelter “it is no longer a secret that the border is closed” and “everyone has seen the social networks.”
“There is no worse blind person than the one who does not want to see. So, invest the little or much that one has to stay in Mexico thrown away”, laments the young Venezuelan.
Last week, the United States Government launched a program that gives legal status for two years to Venezuelans who arrive by plane and will immediately expel those who cross the border with Mexico by land, as a measure to stop the massive wave of migration of that current nationality.
Not included in this program are those who enter irregularly through Panama, that is, through the Darién, Mexico, and those who have been deported in the last five years.
Those who enter the United States legally must have a “sponsor” who takes care of them legally and financially. This decision has left thousands of migrants who crossed the jungle prior to the US government’s announcement in limbo.
“We are trying to talk to immigration. I for my part said that I have my money. That they give us the facility of a flight to return to Venezuela or I have papers in Peru. What I want is to get out of here, my family is desperate and worried,” says Figueroa.
The migrant’s claim is not far from what is already happening in Mexico, where a group of his compatriots has asked the Mexican government to deport them to their country of origin, or to the closest thing to Colombia.
“They don’t give us the tools, I pay my ticket, but they tell me I have to pay a fine of a thousand dollars to be able to leave,” says Figueroa.
It’s a “rumor”
In Bajo Chiquito, the Panamanian indigenous town where exhausted migrants arrive after crossing the Darién Gap, the recent news is still a “rumor”.
It goes from mouth to mouth with a Venezuelan accent: the United States closed the border with Mexico for the “chamos”. “Miss, is that true? What has President Biden said? Can we not go through anymore?” Almost a dozen Venezuelans ask EFE.
The faces were disfigured and the anxiety was visible with the trembling of the hands, while stuttering they tried to formulate the question that causes so much panic: they do not know if it was worth crossing the most dangerous migratory step in the world for days.
There is no telecommunications signal in Bajo Chiquito, therefore, there is no way to verify the news. The National Border Service (Senafront), the specialized militarized security force that guards the borders of Panama, should not give information.
His role, which is extrapolated from his real duties, is to provide protection and security – a type of humanitarian aid – to the thousands of irregular migrants who arrive daily broken from the jungle.
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A river of migrants fleeing from hunger
In Bajo Chiquito, an average of 1,500 migrants arrive daily, but there are days that exceed 2,000, according to what Senafront tells EFE. So far this year, 187,644 passers-by have crossed the jungle, by either of its two routes.
The majority (more than 70%) are Venezuelan, but there are also from Haiti, Bangladesh, India, Somalia, Colombia and even the Philippines, according to data provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
This record and very high figure compared to previous years has led the Panamanian authorities to formally request help from the entire continent.
The migrants arrive in that small town dirty, wet, trembling (from fear and fever), sick and desperate, after having walked between two days -the fastest- and six days through the Darién from Colombia.
Their hope is to get to the US to “work” fleeing the “hunger that kills them” in Venezuela, a country that “hurts” to see plunged into a crisis without light at the end of the tunnel, according to reports.
“What I want is to get out now,” concludes Figueroa, disappointed to give up hopes of a better quality of life.
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