By Elida Moreno
PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - The number of people crossing the treacherous Darien Gap linking Panama and Colombia hit an all-time high in the first seven months of the year, figures released on Monday showed, with July seeing a sharp jump despite recent efforts to curb the trend.
Official data showed 248,901 people walked through the jungle area between January and July, already surpassing the record of 248,284 recorded for the whole of 2022, with most aiming to reach the United States, according to data from Panama's Security Ministry.
Entries to Panama from Colombia through the jungle region have continued to rise despite a two-month program launched in April by the United States, Panama and Colombia to tackle undocumented immigration.
July recorded the most crossings, with 52,530 people taking part in the dangerous journey, up 77% from June, mostly from Venezuela, Haiti and Ecuador, according to the data.
The flow of migrants has skyrocketed from previous years, despite the start of the rainy season, Panama's Security Minister Juan Pino said earlier this month.
Some 20% of the people who have crossed the jungle this year are minors, 51% of whom are under five years old, migration official Maria Saravia said at a press conference where the new figures were presented.
The United Nations forecast in April the total number of crossings would surpass 400,000 this year, with the organization warning that migrants crossing through the jungle are exposed to disease, violence, sexual abuse and human trafficking.
(Reporting by Elida Moreno; Writing by Valentine Hilaire; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)