Migrants walk through the jungle near the end of their journey through the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama AFP

Panama shut down three paths across the Darien Gap, the treacherous jungle path connecting the country with Colombia and used by hundreds of thousands of migrants each year as they travel north of the continent.

Authorities told EFE they seek to "channel" the flow of people so as to have better control of the routes, many of them operated by human smuggling networks.

Panama's border service (Senafront) said that "the previous control had security forces in multiple points, which made it more difficult to fight against international criminal organizations benefiting from trafficking people, unlawful charges and other crimes connected to these vulnerable people."

Now, they added, "by concentrating efforts in a single path we are exponentially strengthening patrols, as well as multi-front security related to migrants."

The change of policy comes shortly after the country's new president, José Raúl Mulino, took office. Mulino has vowed to shut down the Darien Gap and proposed conducting deportation flights as long as the United States finances them.

The countries recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in which the U.S. administration committed to covering the repatriation costs. The agreement was signed by Panamanian Foreign Minister Javier Martínez-Acha and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

The agreement includes U.S. support for Panama with equipment, transportation, and logistics for foreigners detected within migratory flows that violate Panamanian immigration laws. These individuals will be subject to administrative measures in accordance with Panamanian law.

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson affirmed that the Biden administration would "support Panama's efforts to initiate the rapid, safe, and humane repatriation of migrants who lack a legal basis to remain in Panama."

Panamanian officials say about 1,200 undocumented migrants are beginning the Darien Gap crossing every day. A record 520,000 people made the crossing last year, about 120,000 of them children.

UNICEF recently said that the amount of children crossing has increased by 40% so far this year, putting figures on track for their fifth consecutive yearly increase, the organization added.

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