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Record migrant crossings along Darién jungle are creating an "unsustainable crisis," Colombian ambassador says

Aerial view showing migrants walking through the jungle near Bajo Chiquito village, the first border control of the Darien Province in Panama, on September 22, 2023.  LUIS ACOSTA/AFP via Getty Images

Washington — The unprecedented flow of tens of thousands of U.S.-bound migrants crossing Panama's treacherous Darién Gap jungle each month is "an unsustainable crisis," Colombia's ambassador to the U.S. told CBS News on Friday.

In September alone, more than 75,000 migrants crossed the roadless Darién jungle on foot, the second-highest monthly tally recorded by Panamanian officials, only a few thousand less than the 82,000 crossings reported in August. In total, more than 400,000 migrants, many of them Venezuelans headed to the U.S., have crossed that jungle this year to enter Central America, a record and once unimaginable number.

The flow of migration along the largely ungoverned Panama-Colombia border has fueled unprecedented levels of Venezuelan arrivals along the U.S. southern border, where American officials processed roughly 50,000 Venezuelan migrants in September alone, an all-time high.

"Irregular migration through the Darién Gap is indeed an unsustainable crisis that poses serious safety risks to all who attempt the trip — that is why Colombia, and the U.S. are working together to ensure that those who contemplate that dangerous journey do not take their first step," Luis Gilberto Murillo, Colombia's ambassador to the U.S., said in a statement to CBS News.

U.S. officials have been frustrated by what they see as Colombia's unwillingness to take aggressive actions to stem the flow of migration into the Darién. At an event last month, top U.S. border official Blas Nuñez Neto called the situation in the jungle a "humanitarian catastrophe," citing a recent work trip there.

Record number of migrants trek through Panama's perilous Darién Gap 04:58

Gustavo Petro, Colombia's first leftist president, has said his government will not physically stop migrants from entering the jungle, arguing instead that the issue must be dealt with in a humanitarian way. Murillo, the ambassador to the U.S., offered similar remarks on Friday, saying Colombia is focused on expanding legal migration opportunities, integrating Venezuelan migrants into Colombian society and working with the U.S. to improve local economies so fewer people opt to migrate.

"Colombia is doing its part, but social and economic development is urgently needed to address the root causes of the humanitarian crisis unfolding across the hemisphere," Murillo said. His office did not say whether Colombia would take actions against the cartels and smugglers facilitating the flow of migrants across the border with Panama.

A migrant woman walks by the jungle carrying her daughter near Bajo Chiquito village, the first border control of the Darien Province in Panama, on September 22, 2023. LUIS ACOSTA/AFP via Getty Images

Murillo is set to tour the Darién Gap on Saturday with New York Mayor Eric Adams, who is touring parts of Latin America as part of an effort to bring an international spotlight to the challenges his city has faced in housing tens of thousands of migrants in over 200 hotels, homeless shelters, tents and other facilities.

New York City and other large Democratic-led cities like Chicago and Denver have struggled to accommodate the influx in migrants, some of whom have been bused to their communities by Texas' Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. The operational challenges faced by the cities have prompted their Democratic leaders to openly criticize the Biden administration's handling of border issues.

Migrants arrive to Bajo Chiquito village, the first border control of the Darien Province in Panama, on September 22, 2023.  LUIS ACOSTA/AFP via Getty Images

Murillo is also slated to brief Adams on joint U.S.-Colombia efforts to convince migrants from Venezuela, Cuba and Haiti to wait in Colombia for a chance to be vetted for eligibility to come to the U.S. legally at so-called "safe mobility offices." Those offices have been stood up in Bogota, Medellin and Cali.

Colombia is currently hosting roughly 3 million Venezuelans, the most of any country. More than 7 million Venezuleans have fled their homeland in recent years due to its economic collapse and the authoritarian policies of its socialist government.

On Thursday, in response to the spike in Venezuelan arrivals, the U.S. announced it would, for the first time in years, conduct direct and regular deportations to Venezuela of migrants who crossed into the country unlawfully.

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