Berliner Tageblatt - Colombia will not shut key migrant crossing to Panama: foreign minister

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Colombia will not shut key migrant crossing to Panama: foreign minister
Colombia will not shut key migrant crossing to Panama: foreign minister / Photo: © AFP

Colombia will not shut key migrant crossing to Panama: foreign minister

Colombia will not close its border with Panama along the Darien Gap -- the dense, dangerous jungle that has become a major route for migration toward the United States -- Foreign Minister Luis Gilberto Murillo told AFP Saturday.

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The comments came as Jose Raul Mulino, elected as Panama's new president on May 5, promised to shut down the Darien Gap while on the campaign trail.

"It is a conversation that should continue, but Colombia obviously would not agree with closing borders," Murillo said in an interview in Bogota.

"On the contrary, what we have to offer is more humanitarian outlets for this population that crosses through that area," he added.

Panama's Mulino earlier this month promised to deport migrants passing through the jungle to Colombia.

"Our Darien is not a transit route, no sir. It is our border," the right-wing president-elect said.

Colombia's Murillo added that the government was seeking to arrange a meeting with Mulino before his July 1 inauguration to discuss migration.

He said he was confident Mulino's comments were made "in the heat of the campaign."

"People are going to move and what we have to guarantee is that this mobility is safe, that it is a regular mobility and that people do not fall into the hands" of criminals, he told AFP.

Migrants crossing the Darien Gap face treacherous terrain, wild animals and violent criminal gangs that extort, kidnap and abuse them.

In 2023, a record 520,000 people -- most of them Venezuelans -- crossed through the gap. About 120,000 of them were children.

In 2022, 62 people died on the trek. The provisional count for 2023 stands at 34.

While most of those crossing the Darien Gap are fleeing an economic crisis in Venezuela, migrants from Africa and Asia also use the remote forest in their bids to reach the United States.

- Haiti police training, West Bank embassy -

Murillo also said that Colombia wants to train Haiti's national police in their fight against gangs.

The idea would be to conduct the training in Colombia, he said.

Haiti has been wracked for decades by poverty, natural disasters, political instability and violence. It has had no president since the assassination of Jovenel Moise in 2021 and it has no sitting parliament.

A Kenya-led, multinational mission backed by the UN and United States is set to soon deploy to the Caribbean country to help its weak, outgunned police force defeat powerful criminal gangs that control swaths of the capital.

The foreign minister also added that "there is already a team working" on the Colombian government's efforts to open an embassy in the city of Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.

President Gustavo Petro -- an ardent critic of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- made the announcement on Wednesday.

Amid the mounting civilian death toll in the Israel-Hamas war, Colombia severed ties with Israel as Petro called Netanyahu "genocidal."