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39 killed when migrant bus slides off cliff in Panama en route to US


At least 39 people were killed early Wednesday morning when a bus carrying 66 migrants from the Darien Gap plunged off a cliff in Panama, local authorities said. The crash underlined the dangers of the increasingly common journey across Central America to the United States.

The bus was transporting the migrants to a shelter in Chiriquí, a western Panama province bordering Costa Rica, at about 4:40 a.m. when the driver missed the entrance to the shelter, turned around and lost control of the vehicle, Samira said. Gozaine, Panama’s migration director.

All the passengers were migrants who had paid for the private bus service to reach the shelter on their way north, Gozaine said in an interview with The Washington Post. Children were also among the dead, she said.

Several other passengers were hospitalized with serious injuries. “We imagine everyone on that bus has some sort of injury,” Gozaine said.

The bus was driven by two Panamanians who had the proper license to operate this type of bus, Gozaine said. Among the dead is at least one of the drivers.

Authorities have not identified the migrants’ nationalities and continue to investigate the crash. Communication was difficult given the limited cell service in the area, Gozaine said.

This is the first accident involving migrants in at least the past year, Gozaine said, even as a record number of migrants have crossed the Darien Gap en route to the United States.

Nearly 250,000 people will cross the Darien Gap into Panama by 2022, nearly double the previous year, according to the Panamanian government. More than 150,000 of these were Venezuelans, a doubling from the previous year. The next largest groups were Ecuadorians, Haitians and Cubans. About 16 percent of those were children and adolescents, according to figures published by the International Organization for Migration, an agency of the United Nations.

At least 36 people died in the Darien Gap last year, according to data collected by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project. But many migrant deaths in the remote jungle are never reported and their remains never recovered, the agency said, making it difficult to know exactly how many people died on the journey.

Juan Pino, Panama’s security minister, said about 37,000 migrants have entered the country so far this year.

Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo responded to the crash in a tweet early Wednesday.

“It is with great sadness that I receive the news of the traffic accident in Gualaca, Chiriquí,” he said. “This news is unfortunate for Panama and for the region. The national government extends its condolences to the families of the victims of this accident and reiterates its commitment to continue providing humanitarian aid and decent conditions to tackle irregular migration.”

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