Colombia reports almost 700 migrants stranded in Caribbean region

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Some 700 migrants bound for the United States are stranded on a Caribbean beach in Colombia because the South American country’s borders remain closed to curb the spread of coronavirus, the migration agency said on Friday.

The migrants are stuck on beaches in Necocli, a municipality in Colombia’s Antioquia province, from where they hope to pass through the dangerous Darian Gap towards Panama and then north towards the United States, said migration agency director Juan Francisco Espinosa.

The stranded migrants include some 647 Haitian nationals, as well as 23 Cubans, and 19 migrants from African countries, he said.

Just in the last week more than 500 migrants have arrived in Necocli, demanding they be allowed to travel to Panama.

“This isn’t possible because there is a presidential order to close the borders and additionally Panama has also closed its borders,” Espinosa said, adding that migrants will receive humanitarian aid while border controls with Ecuador will be stepped up to prevent more immigrants from entering Colombia.

Colombia has closed its land and river borders since March 2020, a measure it will keep in place until at least March 1. It deported some 3,800 illegal migrants last year, the majority from Haiti, according to agency statistics.

Migrants from Cuba, African and Asian countries are also detained in Colombia as they look to travel to the United States with help from people-trafficking networks.

At the start of January four Haitians - a man, a pregnant woman and two children - drowned after their vessel shipwrecked between Necocli and Capurgana, a Colombian Caribbean resort from where they intended to travel to Panama.

Migration authorities, with help from the military and police, captured 198 people traffickers in recent months and dismantled 60 trafficking networks, Espinosa said.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Richard Chang