At least 39 people died in Panama on Wednesday in the collision between a migrant bus en route to the United States and a minibus, Panamanian authorities announced.
A previous report of the accident reported at least 33 dead and "three injured in critical condition at the scene of the accident".
President Laurentino Cortizo expressed on Twitter his "great sadness" upon hearing the news of "the traffic accident in Gualaca, in the province of Chiriqui", about 400 km west of the capital.
The migrants traveling on board the coach "were transported from Darien (the border jungle with Colombia, editor's note) to an inn," said the head of state.
The passengers were heading to Costa Rica, from where they intended to continue their journey to the United States.
"Preliminary information (...) unfortunately indicates that 39 people lost their lives. The injured are being cared for in various hospitals and health centres," the migration services said in a statement.
There are "more than five children" among the injured and their state of health is "worrying", said the Ministry of Health in a press release.
66 people, including the driver and his assistant, were on board the vehicle, said the services responsible for migration.
"This news is deplorable for Panama and for the region. The government offers its condolences to the loved ones of those who died in this accident and reaffirms its commitment to continue providing humanitarian aid and dignified conditions" to migrants, the president tweeted. Panamanian.
"Government teams are working tirelessly on site to provide medical assistance to survivors of this tragedy," Cortizo added.
The victims are people who were looking for "better living conditions", lamented the director of the Panamanian migration services Samira Gozaine.
“We are investigating” the circumstances of the accident, she told AFP.
According to local media, the bus driver did not stop at the hostel near the town of Guacala where the migrants were to stop before continuing their journey to Costa Rica.
It was when he wanted to turn around that this vehicle collided with a minibus. The shock was terribly violent, as evidenced by the photos of the wreckage transmitted by the emergency services and which show a shredded carcass.
The number of irregular migrants arriving in Panama by road bound for the United States has almost doubled in a year, reaching a record 248,000 in 2022, more than half of whom were Venezuelans, according to Panamanian immigration services.
Ecuadorians, Haitians and Cubans, as well as Africans and Asians are also trying to reach the United States by taking this perilous and long route.
Migrants arrive in Panama after crossing on foot, risking their lives, the Darien jungle, straddling Colombia and Panama and devoid of roads. During this journey, they face the dangers of this mountainous and swampy jungle 266 km long.
Their enemies are not only snakes and mosquitoes but also gangs of criminals who attack them to rob them. Many of them thus disappeared into the jungle while women and adolescent girls were raped.
According to the director of the Panamanian Institute of Forensic Medicine José Vicente Pachar, at least 60 migrants died last year trying to cross the Darien.
The Panamanian government, in cooperation with UN aid agencies and NGOs, has set up camps to accommodate migrants as they leave Darien.
Likewise, the authorities allow them to pass through Panama on board private company coaches that transit to the Costa Rican border via the Pan-American Highway.
Usually, the coaches run at night "because there is less traffic" and thus take advantage of the "cooler" hours, said Ms. Gozaine.
02/15/2023 18:35:54 - Panama (AFP) - © 2023 AFP