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At least 39 migrants killed in Panama bus crash after crossing Darién Gap

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At least 39 migrants have been killed in a gruesome bus accident in Panama after trekking for days through the Central American country’s southern jungles on their way to a new life in the US.

The accident took place in the early hours of Wednesday as a convoy of buses traveled from Panama’s border with Colombia towards a migrant reception centre near the town of Gualaca.

“We are in a disaster situation,” Dr Katherine Guerra, the emergency department chief at a hospital in the city of David, told reporters as survivors were rushed there with exposed fractures and severe abdominal injuries.

“There were families, children, newborn babies, elderly women,” one Venezuelan migrant who was at the scene told the newspaper La Estrella de Panamá.

Panama’s president, Nito Cortizo, said government teams were working “arduously” to help survivors and tweeted: “This is deplorable news for Panama and the region.”

Map of the Darién gap

The names and nationalities of those killed were not immediately clear but Gualaca’s mayor, Luis Manuel Etribí Miranda, told reporters he believed most were from Haiti.

Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, said citizens of his country were also involved and sent his condolences to victims of the “terrible accident”.

Tens of thousands of Haitians have poured through the perilous rainforests of the Darién Gap between Colombia and Panama in recent years as their Caribbean homeland has fallen deeper into humanitarian and political crisis.

Many thousands of Cubans have made the same journey hoping to outrun growing political persecution and economic strife back home.

Nearly 70,000 Venezuelans also travelled through the Darién last year as their country continued to reel from one of the most severe economic collapses outside of a war zone in recent world history. A total of nearly 250,000 people made the journey last year compared with about 133,000 in 2021, according to official statistics.

Panama’s migration chief, Samira Gozaine, told reporters that authorities believed the accident had happened after the bus missed a turn into the migrant centre where it was supposed to leave its 66 passengers. Local reports said the driver lost control of the vehicle after turning back and the bus plunged off an escarpment, leaving dozens of passengers dead.

The Human Rights Watch activist Juan Pappier called the accident a disaster foretold. “When I visited this region, we saw that these buses carried more people than permitted and made long journeys without breaks. There have been similar accidents in the past, with numerous injured,” Pappier tweeted.



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( With inputs from : www.theguardian.com )

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