Photo: File Photos

Afghan Migrants Drown As Boat Capsizes Off Panama               

VANCOUVER, CANADA – Five migrants were dead with search ongoing for another missing individual after a boat capsized off Panama in the Caribbean sea on Wednesday, February 14.

According to the Associated Press, the Public Safety Ministry of Panama reported on Thursday that the boat was transporting 27 people most of whom were migrants from Afghanistan. The boat capsized near the Guna Yala Indigenous area, trying to avoid the Darien Gap, which is considered a dangerous land route for migrants and human traffickers.      

Among the casualties were also two women and a child.

The ministry highlighted that adverse weather conditions, particularly during this time of the year, often contribute to accidents, especially in illegal attempts at migrant smuggling. Video footage released by government authorities showed migrant bodies alongside the overturned boat on rocky coastlines.      

According to Panama’s Public Safety Minister Juan Pino, the boat belonged to the Clan Del Golfo, a migrant smuggling network based in Colombia.            

Migration routes from South America to the US and Canada were used for years by Latin Americans pushed by violence, crimes, drugs, and poor economies to seek better lives.

In the past two years, however, thousands of refugees and migrants from Afghanistan have found their way to Brazil, from where they join South Americans at the hands of smugglers to US-Mexico borders. Some make their way to Canada.

The Darien Gap, a jungle-covered region between Colombia and Panama, takes more than  a week or more to traverse on foot. However, continued migration have left behind more permanent walking trails which added to informal systems of support have brought the the journey to about three days for those who can afford.      

In 2023, more than half a million migrants travelled the gap, twice the number in previous years.

In the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Brazil announced that it would issue humanitarian visas to Afghans who needed protection. Many Afghans in Pakistan and Iran used those visas to reach Brazil and then illegally go to North America where tens of thousands of their countrymen and women have resettled.

According to immigration authorities in Panama, 326 Afghans passed through the Darien only in January 2024. The number of Afghans entering Panama has doubled since 2022, from 2220 to 4267.