Panama Reports Progress in Resolving Migration Crisis

In a press conference last week, Panama’s Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes announced that the number of migrants crossing into Panama through the Darien Gap has decreased from 2,461 per day at its peak in August to just 140 today. This remarkable progress is the clearest sign yet that Panama’s diplomatic and security strategy to address the migration crisis is working. 

“Since the first ministerial summit convened by Panama in August of last year, we have engaged more than ten strategic partners in the region, including the United States, Canada, and Colombia,” said Mouynes. “All have supported the Panamanian request to address the phenomenon with responsibility, coordination, and a humanitarian approach.” 

Last year, nearly 140,000 migrants passed through Panama – a drastic increase from the 10,000 migrants who typically pass through in a normal year. The surge was driven in large part by political and economic instability in countries of origin, as well as the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a country directly impacted by the crisis, Panama took a leading role, organizing the first-ever regional Ministerial Summit for leaders at the highest levels to plan a response to the crisis. Countries across the Americas committed to coordinated action. 

Panama also worked closely with regional partners including the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and United States to dismantle criminal human trafficking organizations enabling this migration. Last month, Panama arrested six alleged coyotes for connections to migrant smuggling, rescuing 26 Nicaraguan victims in the process. In December and January, Panama worked with Colombian authorities to arrest over 60 people in the Colombian Clan del Gulf network, which had been making millions of dollars off of smuggling migrants. In September, Panama and Costa Rican authorities executed a joint operation culminating in the arrest of over 40 accused smugglers.  

While Panama’s collaboration with regional partners has facilitated a dramatic drop in migration numbers, in the months to come, it will be critical to continue working to address the root causes which have forced migrants to leave their countries of origin in the first place. 

Whether through new tools, like our Alliance for Development in Democracy or through existing multilateral channels, Panama looks forward to collaborating as a region to promote economic prosperity and strengthen governments’ ability to respond to their citizens’ needs. Having mitigated last year’s migration crisis, it is time to work together to prevent future ones.