At least 39 migrants die in bus crash off Panama cliff


PANAMA CITY, Feb 15 (Reuters) - At least 39 have died in Panama after a bus carrying more than 60 migrants fell off a cliff early on Wednesday, the country's migration authorities said, marking the worst migration accident in the Central American country's history.

The bus, carrying migrants who had travelled through the Darien Gap, a dangerous stretch of jungle that connects Colombia to Central America, was heading towards a shelter located in the western coastal province of Chiriqui, which borders Costa Rica.

More than half of the 66 passengers in the bus died in the accident near the Gualaca migrant shelter, an area with many curving roads, authorities said.

About 20 people were hospitalised with injuries, some of them severely wounded, Panama's social security authority told Reuters.

Migration authorities did not provide details on the nationalities of the victims, saying it would first communicate with the relatives and respective embassies of the passengers.

"The Government extends its condolences to the families of those killed in this accident, and reiterates its commitment to continue providing humanitarian aid and decent conditions to deal with irregular migration," Panama's President Laurentino Cortizo said on Twitter.

Last year, a record 248,000 migrants crossed the Darien Gap, most of them Venezuelans. A new, stricter U.S. migration policy has resulted in many being returned to Panama, where they often cannot afford transportation back to Venezuela.

Since the beginning of 2023, a further 32,800 have crossed the Darien Gap, Panama's foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

Reporting by Elida Moreno and Natalia Siniawski; Writing by Steven Grattan; Editing by Sarah Morland and Shounak Dasgupta

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