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Child migration through Panama’s dangerous Darien Gap is up 40%, UN report says

PANAMA CITY — Child migration through Panama’s dangerous Darien Gap is up 40% so far this year, according to a report released Wednesday by the U.N. children’s agency.

UNICEF said an estimated 30,000 minors have crossed the jungle-clad trail between Colombia and Panama, and some have died making the trip. The report says a total of 139,000 migrants of all ages have made the crossing in the same period.

“Many children have died on this dangerous and arduous trip,” said Ted Chaiban, deputy executive director of UNICEF. “Given that children make up one-fifth of those making this journey, UNICEF’s presence and help is more important than ever.”

Last year, more than 500,000 people crossed the treacherous migratory highway, many traveling from Venezuela and other Latin American, African and Asian countries. From there, migrants wind up going through Central America and Mexico and land on the U.S. Mexico border, where authorities came across migrants 2.5 million times in 2023.

UNICEF predicted that, at the current rate, as many as 800,000 migrants and 160,000 minors could make the crossing by the end of the year.

The agency says more funding is needed to care of the underage migrants. Many of the migrants making the crossing are Venezuelan, Haitian, Ecuadoran and Chinese.

President-elect José Raúl Mulino vowed earlier this month to shut down the migration route. Until now, Panama has helped speedily bus the migrants across its territory so they can continue their journey north.

The migrant route through the narrow isthmus grew exponentially in popularity in recent years with the help of organized crime in Colombia, making it an affordable, if dangerous, land route for hundreds of thousands.

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