The number of people making a perilous journey on foot through the Darien Gap jungle to reach the United States has dropped significantly since the U.S. government tightened its rules on migrants, the International Organization for Migration said.

Earlier this month Washington expanded COVID-19 pandemic-era restrictions to include migrants from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua and not just Venezuelans as people who can be expelled back to Mexico if caught crossing the border into the United States. The restrictions are known as Title 42.

IOM Director General Antonio Vitorino said the measure was discouraging people from heading north.

“There was a drop in the numbers of people that cross the Darien in the first three weeks of January with the new rules for Title 42 adopted by the U.S. administration,” he told Reuters on Friday.

Vitorino said 133,000 people made the Darien crossing in 2021, the same number as in the entire previous 10 years, and the crossings almost doubled to 250,000 last year, mostly Venezuelan migrants but also Haitians.

The migrants have suffered murders and rape and been subjected to extortion and prostitution by armed gangs crossing through dense jungle between Colombia and Panama, he said.

They arrive in Panama extremely dehydrated and in terrible medical condition, especially the women and children, he added.

Vitorino also noted what he called a “serious humanitarian crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border with the high number of migrants barred from entering the United States or expelled back to Mexico.


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