People from Afghanistan and Pakistan in the jungles of the Darien in Panama on their way to the US?

Presence of Undocumented Africans and Asians Worries Panamanian Officials

Monday, February 21 2011 @ 12:36 PM EST
Contributed by: Don Winner
Views: 107
A new phenomenon of migration has been recorded in Panama with the emergence of hundreds of migrants from African and Asian countries, which regularly arrive Panamanian territory illegally from Colombia. Recently, the director of the National Immigration Service of Panama (SNM), María Cristina González, urged the Colombian government to implement appropriate immigration measures to stop this human tide that has filled the holding cells with undocumented migrants. Currently, among the detainees are 34 citizens from Bangladesh, seven from Pakistan, 23 from Nepal, three from India, and ten from Afghanistan, without forgetting that every month persons of other nationalities are released from countries such as Somalia and Eritrea.
According to Gonzalez, these groups of immigrants are arriving in the territory of Panama from Colombia, passing through the rugged mountains that divide the two countries, until they arrive at the Panamanian province of Darién. The immigrants from other continents use the connecting routes, by sea, from the countries to arrive on the Colombian coasts, and then they pass overland into Panama, with the purpose of using it as a step to reach the United States and Canada. The drama of many of these people, who come from countries in civil wars like Somalia, has been the subject of debate and attention of the National Organization for Aid to Refugees (ONPAR). Some qualify for this immigration status, so their cases in the immigration holding cells might extend to five months, such as the case of a group of immigrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan who are in desperate legal limbo.

The situation for the Panamanian immigration authorities is also difficult because they have to take over the maintenance of these individuals and provide health care when needed. Indeed, on 13 February, the situation of these people was so difficult that they decided to stage a protest in the premises of the immigration holding cells, asking for their release or deportation, but none of these measures was possible. It was impossible to release or deport them because the legal representatives of the detainees filed a request for habeas corpus before the Supreme Court, but those cases have not yet been decided.

In a similar case, the Pakistanis decided to conduct a hunger strike demanding that their cases be resolved quickly and after five days one of them, Mohamed Shafi, had to be rushed to the Hospital Santo Tomás in Panama City. Mohamed was sent to the emergency room of the main medical center in the Panamanian capital dehydrated and physically weak. Another group of these people, applied through ONPAR for political refugee status, but their cases also are delayed while the relevant agencies are assessing the conditions of each of the applicants.

The human face of the African and Asian immigration is becoming the new phenomenon of migration, and has caused the Panamanian authorities to step up surveillance on the southern border with Colombia, where we share a mountainous border of 266 kilometers. Gonzalez has spoken firmly to resolve this problem that afflicts the treasury and human resources of their institution, demanding that the Colombian government comply with immigration regulations and prevent the transit of such persons into Panamanian territory. The official said Panama would not be used for human trafficking because it is becoming a serious problem for Panama’s security.

On 10 February, the governments of Panama and Colombia signed a bilateral agreement that will combat trafficking in persons, drugs and terrorism-related activities within its borders. The border area between the two countries has traditionally been the scene of illegal activities due to lack of effective controls on both sides, a situation aggravated by the existence inhospitable jungle mountain terrain. Over the past year, the deportation of illegal immigrants caused the National Immigration Service to spend more than $104,000 dollars in services and transportation. (La Estrella)

Editor’s Comment: There’s one important angle this story fails to mention. A few months ago a group of people who were supposedly poor Somali farmers were arrested in the Darien. They had apparently come from Africa across the Atlantic and arrived in Venezuela, then moved over sea and land to Colombia and Panama where they were apprehended. Each of them had a brand new Venezuelan passport and about $5,000 dollars in cash. An official from the US embassy told me they suspect these people were actually Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists who were trying to eventually infiltrate the United States through the Southern border with Mexico. The capture of these dudes was significant because it might end up being a “smoking gun” case of Hugo Chavez working together with terrorists, to help them with documents and ease of passage. Sure, this is an immigration issue for Panama, but there are much larger implications for the United States. People from Afghanistan and Pakistan in the jungles of the Darien in Panama on their way to the US? Not good…

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