The Panamanian government announced a campaign that strengthens security in the Darien jungle, on the border with Colombia, to combat criminal groups that assault and rape migrants who cross that pass on their way to the United States.
The “Operation Chocó”, within the “Shield Campaign”, promoted by the Security portfolio together with the National Immigration Service and the National Border Service of Panama (Senafront – border police), will deploy 1,200 units through the Darién jungle to curb the presence of international criminal groups.
The Darien Gap, one of the most dangerous migration routes in the world, is used daily by hundreds of irregular migrants who want to reach the United States or Canada, many of them mobilized by human smuggling networks.
This area is extremely dangerous, not only due to the climatic conditions typical of the jungle, but also due to the presence of armed groups that assault and rape migrants, according to their complaints. This week, three suspected assailants were killed in a confrontation with Panamanian special forces agents in the Darien jungle.
According to the Minister of Security, “the latest events have made it clear that these gangs have increased”, which is why “police forces from Senan (National Aerovanal Service) and Senafront have been deployed to control this scourge (…) because these gangs are organized by young people who have a leader who may be from the Clan del Golfo”.
In the opinion of the director of Senafront, Oriel Ortega, “criminals are cowards who take what little people carry in a jungle to profit and intimidate them”, and he encouraged “all countries” to unite against “organized criminals transnationals”.
The Panamanian authorities have reiterated this Friday, during the launch of the campaign, that the Darien jungle “is not a migratory route” due to the high danger of the area.
In the first five months of the year, 166,122 irregular migrants have crossed the Darién, a number almost five times higher compared to the same period in 2022, according to official figures from the Government of Panama. The majority continue to be Venezuelans, followed by Haitians.
It is expected that this year 400,000 people will cross the Darién, which would almost double the data for 2022, which closed with a record number of more than 248,000 people in transit.
America is experiencing an unprecedented migratory crisis with this massive flow of migrants to the north of the continent in search of better living conditions. There are some 20 million people displaced “right now” in the region, according to data cited by the NGO HIAS.