While stranded migrants on Thursday begged to be allowed passage, Panama announced that the border with Colombia will remain closed.
The move comes in an attempt to stem the flow of large numbers of Cubans and other migrants using Panama as a “bridge” to reach Central America and ultimately the United States.
In a statement the Panamanian government said that anyone who enters Panama in an irregular way will “be deported and a ban from entering the country will be ordered.”
Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela ordered the closure of the border two weeks ago to prevent the trafficking of illegal immigrants.
This latest restriction comes as Cuban immigrants stranded in northern Colombia plead for passage, claiming they were not receiving adequate humanitarian aid.
In a public statement, the Cubans said they fled their homeland “for the total lack of freedom; democracy and future economic opportunities.”
The statement requested an opening of the border between Colombia and Panama and described the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding at the border where the Cubans claim being preyed upon by criminal gangs.
“On the long road through different countries to cross to reach the US, we had to survive, particularly in Colombia, multiple forms of abuse by criminal groups who take advantage of our vulnerability,… rape, threats and illegal detention,” read the statement.
According to the Cubans, members of the Colombian security forces have also abused the migrants.
“No few Cubans, who were hoping to find a country better than Cuba, died as ‘John Does’ on the way, drowned at sea, abandoned by coyotes and then lost in the Darien Jungle. There have been suicides because of the despair, the losing of a child and exhaustion.”
As the situation worsens, the immigrants are pleading that they are given passage through Colombia to Panama in order to reach the US for “family reunification, to a life of freedom.”
“Respectfully we ask all authorities, international organizations, governments in the region, church institutions; the Colombian government — to whom we are grateful for allowing us to stay in their territory — to assess the possibility of finding a satisfactory solution in this difficult legal and humanitarian situation in which we find ourselves.”
Cubans entering the United States receive residency with relative ease under the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act of 1996.
Just inside the border with Panama, Puerto Obaldia has been one of the main crossing points from Colombia for thousands of Cubans and other migrants who have traveled to the United States via Central America in the past two years.
At the beginning of May, Panama and Mexico agreed to airlift almost 3,500 Cubans stranded since December on the Panamanian frontier with Costa Rica to near the US-Mexico border.
Many of the Cubans entering last year began their trek in Ecuador, which offered them an easy way into South America. In December Ecuador imposed visa requirements on the Cubans.
The number of Cubans heading north surged last year in part due to their fears that recent rapprochement between Havana and Washington could end those preferential U.S. policies.