Migrants carrying children walk by the jungle near Bajo Chiquito
Migrants carrying children walk by the jungle near Bajo Chiquito village, the first border control of the Darien Province in Panama AFP

A top Colombian official said the government disagrees with the vow made by Panama's president-elect to shut down the Darien Gap, located in the border between the countries and a key migration route for people seeking to make their way to North America.

Speaking to AFP, Colombian Foreign Minister Luis Gilberto Murillo addressed the statements made by José Raúl Mulino. "It is a conversation we must continue, but Colombia obviously wouldn't agree with shutting down the border, and even less so with shutting down the Darien Gap," he said.

"We need to offer more humanitarian opportunities to the population crossing that area. People are going to move and we need to guarantee that they are safe doing so."

Elected to the presidency on May 5, Mulino made of shutting down the Darien Gap one of his main campaign promises. "In order to do away with the odyssey that is the Darien Gap ... with international aid we will begin a process of repatriation, in full compliance with the human rights of all the people there," Mulino said in a speech to the election body that formally declared him president.

In mid-May, Frank Ábrego, set to be his Security Minister, said the government is not planning on building a wall across the border but will deport those trying to enter the country.

In another passage of the interview, Murillo said Colombian authorities are seeking to meet with Mulino before he takes office on July 1, the goal being to discuss a series of affairs "having migratory flows at the center of them."

Over half a million people crossed the treacherous jungle path connecting the countries last year, and it is estimated the figure could reach 800,000 in 2024. The amount of children crossing has increased by 40% so far this year, according to a new release by United Nations agency UNICEF, potentially clocking in at 160,000 this year.

According to an April report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Panamanian government is currently not doing enough to protect the migrants crossing the Darien Gap, with the country focused on restricting movement and rushing migrants through to Costa Rica.

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