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Costa Rica frets as Panama allows migrants to cross border

A Cuban protest against police blocking the passage in the border with Panama, 320 km south of San Jose, on April 14, 2016/ AFP-File

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, Aug 11 – Costa Rica on Wednesday expressed “concern” at neighboring Panama deciding to allow migrants to cross their common border, as it struggles with thousands of migrants blocked on its own territory.

“We are concerned that the migratory flow is increasing and now we have an additional concern with the official declaration by the Panamanian government that announced free passage for migrants on its territory,” said Carmen Munoz, deputy minister for government and police.

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela on Tuesday said his country would waive immigration restrictions for around 800 migrants who have recently crossed from Colombia and were in the Darien jungle on the border.

Many of the migrants are from Haiti and Africa, with some also from Cuba and Asian countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Varela said that, as a “humanitarian” gesture, they would be permitted to continue their journey north toward their target destination of the United States, meaning they would be let through into Costa Rica.

But Costa Rica is currently hosting around 2,500 migrants near its northern border with Nicaragua, which in November boosted security along the frontier to prevent undocumented migrants crossing.

Police is deployed after more than 1,000 migrants, most of them Cubans, thronged and then stormed across Panama’s border into Costa Rica on April 13, 2016 in a desperate bid to reach the United States/AFP-File

Getting through Nicaragua is proving extremely difficult for the migrants, some of whom have paid upwards of $1,000 to people smugglers to attempt that leg of their trek.

Costa Rican lawmakers are pondering a number of measures to help cope with the influx.

One option being considered is to increase Costa Rica’s tourist tax by five percent.

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