METETI, Panama, Oct 6 – Despite a planned increase in deportation flights from the U.S. in an attempt to stem growing numbers of migrants arriving through the border with Mexico, several Venezuelans making the journey said they would not be deterred.
“This comes as a surprise … but going back isn’t an option for me,” said Kelvin Romero, 25, who had recently entered Panama, having crossed the perilous Darien jungle from Colombia – a common route for Latin American migrants headed to the U.S.
Exhausted from sleepless nights in the jungle and burnt from sun exposure, he said he needed work in the U.S. to support four children at home in Venezuela, where his salary wasn’t enough to get by.
On Thursday, the U.S. said it was restarting deportations of Venezuelans who cross the U.S.-Mexico border unlawfully.
Mexico, on Friday, said it was seeking to return migrants to Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
A record of 417,000 migrants have crossed the Darien Gap this year, more than double the number in all of last year. Most are from Venezuela, where a long economic crisis and sky-high inflation have driven people to leave in droves.
In a meeting near the Darien jungle on Friday, the presidents of Panama and Costa Rica called for other regional leaders to join what they called a shared responsibility to curb the historic migration numbers through a treacherous route where people are often injured or killed.
“Crossing the Darien is hell,” said Panama President Laurentino Crotizo in a statement, after touring the area via plane with Costa Rica counterpart Rodrigo Chaves.
Venezuelan migrant Ana Cordova, 28, trekked through the jungle with her elderly father and 4-year-old son, and planned to continue to the U.S.
“For those people who want to deport us, I hope God touches their heart,” she said.
More migrants have also been crossing Mexico to the U.S. border, with Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) tallying more than 1.5 million foreigners entering the country irregularly this year.
INM has asked Mexico’s foreign ministry to make diplomatic arrangements with Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela for the countries to accept “assisted returns via air,” it said in a statement.
The foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
INM also said it has established 30 checkpoints along cargo railways as part of an agreement with railroad operator Ferromex, which last month suspended some north-bound train routes due to migrants hitching rides.
In the last three weeks, more than 27,000 migrants have been “persuaded to get down from trains,” INM said.
Reporting by Elida Moreno in Meteti and Diego Ore in Mexico City; Writing by Valentine Hilare and Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Stephen Eisenhammer and Sandra Maler
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