Stranded in Central America, migrants demand passage to U.S. border

PANAMA CITY/TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Panama has stepped up border controls in the vast and wild Darien Province that neighbors Colombia, authorities said on Thursday, after some members of a group of 1,900 migrants from as far afield as Africa tried to break out of a detention center to trek north.

The migrants were stranded when lockdown measures imposed across Central America weeks ago to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus stopped their long journey toward the United States.

Panama’s national border agency said it had imposed unspecified new security measures, saying migrants turned violent during repeated attempts to leave the La Penita migration station in recent days.

The agency said in a statement that internal restrictions on movement would make it impossible to cross into Costa Rica

“Security in the area has been strengthened with specialized units in order to guarantee the safety of the community,” a national border source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, adding that the situation was now under control.

Reuters was unable to contact the migrants or representatives for their version of the events.

Representatives for border patrol, the migration and Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for further details. It was not possible to reach officials in Darien Province.

Another group of 78 African, Cuban and Haitian migrants stranded in Honduras for similar reasons, on Thursday were taken into custody by migration authorities, a representative for the migration institute said.

A Haitian migrant, who declined to be identified, told local television that another group of at least 20 migrants would march from the southern city of Choluteca to the capital Tegucigalpa and demand permission to travel to Guatemala.

Reporting by Elida Moreno in Panama City and Gustavo Pelencia in Tegucigalpa; Writing by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Leslie Adler