Panama the “New Libya” for African Migrants?

We’ve discussed before the growing influx of “asylum seekers” from the African continent coming to the Americas with the goal of eventually entering the United States.  (See, for example, our July 12 posting, “With Europe Blocked, the African Exodus Turns to America.“)  Today on the Africa Times website, a correspondent asks the question, “For African migrants, will Panama become the new Libya?

U.S.-Bound Migrants in Panama

The north African country of Libya has become a roadblock to African migrants, many of them sub-Saharan, anxious to secure a foothold in Europe.  With large numbers stymied by the efforts of the Libyan  and Italian governments, some are casting a eye across the Atlantic to the Americas. At the furthest reaches of their vision, they focus on every migrant’s ultimate goal, the United States.

Getting here is a challenge, admittedly.  You board a plane in, say, Nairobi. A few hops and around 24 hours later, you get off in Quito, which requires no visa for Africans. From there, on foot or by bus, it’s up the Pan-American highway into Colombia and through the notorious city of Medellin, the last stop before the highway ends, coming  to an abrupt halt at the Isthmus of Panama, the junction between South and Central America. Up ahead is a 66-mile no-man’s land of jungle called the Darien Gap, the only break in the 19,000-mile route from Alaska to Argentina.

The Darien Gap is filled with challenges: smugglers, thieves, kidnappers, snakes, oppressive tropical heat, disease, etc. Some make it through, however, and thereafter the route–at least up until Mexico’s sudden crackdown this summer–becomes relatively easier.

To its chagrin, the Africa Times reports that Panama may soon be a tougher nut to crack than heretofore. Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan visited Panama City last week to meet with ministers from throughout Central America to “discuss efforts to collaborate on regional safety and security.”  Afterwards, he met with Panamanian Foreign Minister Alejandro Ferrer, reportedly to discuss a “third safe country” deal with Panama.  According to the Times, the deal would require that asylum seekers from outside the Americas who have traveled through Panama would be required to apply for asylum there, instead of the United States (or anywhere else).

This “third safe country” approach of the Trump Administration appears to have been accepted by the government of Mexico and continuing efforts are underway to persuade Guatemala and other countries to come on board as well. Panama may be next up.

For more, see the Africa Times.

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