Panama proposes flying Haitian migrants home after clash

PANAMA CITY (AP) — The government of Panama said Monday it has proposed giving some Haitian migrants flights back to their homeland after frustrations boiled over at the remote camps where they are stuck.

The camps in Panama’s southern Darien province also house some Cuban and African migrants, but about 80% of the 2,000 migrants there are from Haiti.

Public Safety Minister Juan Pino said Monday he offered improved medical services or repatriation flights to the migrants, who want to travel overland to the U.S. border but cannot do so because of coronavirus restrictions. Over the weekend the migrants protested conditions at the camp, setting afire tents and tossing rocks at Panamanian officials.

Pino said “some (migrant) representatives said yes, but it is one thing for them to say it and another for them to want to do it voluntarily,” adding “nobody can force someone to get on an airplane.”

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Many migrants hike up through the jungles of Darien from South America, hoping to travel through Central American and Mexico. Many Haitians were already in South America after taking refuge there following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. Economic downturns have motivated them to try to reach the United States.

But some Central American countries have imposed border restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

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