Capture of boat captains interrupts flow of migrants through the Darién

MEXICO CITY.- The daily flow of thousands of people through the dangerous Gap migration route Darien It was interrupted after the capture of several boat captains who were transporting migrants to the starting point of their journey through the jungle.

The cessation began when Colombian police forces captured two boat captains in the northern city of Necoclí. The companies that employed them interrupted all transportation services in protest, thus cutting off the path of the 2,000 people who, according to official estimates, enter the jungle every day in the hope of reaching the United States.

Which resulted in the accumulation of up to 8,000 people waiting to cross from Colombia to Panama, confirmed the Colombian Ombudsman’s Office. The agency, a government body for the protection of human rights, has warned that the accumulation “would overwhelm the health system, the food supply, among others.”

“We cannot wait for a collapse that results in the violation of fundamental rights” of the already vulnerable migrant populations, said Carlos Camargo Assis, head of the agency.

The chaos has once again highlighted the long road ahead for authorities in Latin America and the United States as they fight to address record levels of migration and disrupt the increasingly lucrative migrant smuggling sector.

Companies that extort in Darién

The captured captains had been transporting more than 150 migrants from Necoclí through a stretch of the Caribbean to another Colombian city from which they began their journey north, the Attorney General’s Office said Wednesday.

The captains worked for two tourist transportation companies, which prosecutors said were a front for transporting migrants, charging them between $140 and $300 per person to travel just a handful of kilometers at sea.

These companies take advantage of the vulnerability of migrants to line their pockets, said an official from the Prosecutor’s Office, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

“They charge them absurd amounts of money (for traveling) without even basic safety conditions. They put them in like canned sardines,” the official said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They deceive them, they lie to them.”

He said the captures were intended to send a warning to those involved in human trafficking and “break the chain” of the illegal migrant transportation sector, which has become more lucrative due to the increase in migration in the American continent. But he said the system in the Darien Gap is now so entrenched that he worries that when one trafficker is caught, “two more will show up.”

Because it is unknown when the local travel suspension will end, the Ombudsman expressed concern that things could only get worse. The small town of Necoclí, population 20,000, faced a similar buildup of more than 10,000 migrants three years ago, causing serious disruptions to its operations.

Darien, migration bridge

US President Joe Biden has pressured Colombia and other Latin American countries to crack down on regional migration heading to the US southern border. Although many Latin American countries have stepped up surveillance, the jungles of the Darién Gap remain a lawless strip of the northward migratory route, largely controlled by Colombia’s most powerful drug trafficking group, the Gulf Clan.

Last year, more than 500,000 people crossed the Darien Gap, many of them from Venezuela and other Latin American, African and Asian countries. From there, migrants move north through Central America and Mexico and arrive at the southern border of the United States, where authorities intercepted migrants 2.5 million times in 2023.

The unprecedented influx of people has returned to the spotlight ahead of the November 2024 US election, with both Biden and former President Donald Trump visiting the border with Mexico on Thursday.

FOUNTAIN: With information from AP