Migrants cross the Darien Province in Panama
Migrants cross the Tuquesa river near Bajo Chiquito village, the first border control of the Darien Province in Panama, on September 22, 2023 AFP

On Monday, the governments of Panama and the United States signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in which the U.S. administration committed to covering the repatriation costs of migrants crossing the Darién Gap, a natural border with Colombia used by hundreds of people daily on their way to North America.

The agreement was signed by Panamanian Foreign Minister Javier Martínez-Acha and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

The MOU, aimed at providing "assistance and cooperation" on migration issues, seeks to stop the flow of illegal migrants through the Darién Gap, which has become a significant humanitarian crisis. Last year, a record 520,000 migrants risked their lives, often at the hands of people smugglers.

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.

Panamanian President José Raúl Mulino, who took office on Monday, emphasized that Panama would not tolerate being an open route for thousands of people entering illegally:

"We cannot continue financing the economic and social costs that massive illegal immigration generates for the country, along with the consequent connection of international criminal organizations."

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."

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