Two UN groups said Thursday that the number of migrants crossing the dangerous Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama could rise to 400,000 this year.

That would be a big increase from the estimated 250,000 migrants who crossed the roadless, jungle-covered route in 2022.

The UN refugee and migration agencies said in a report that almost 100,000 people may have already crossed so far this year, six times the number in the same period last year.

If that trend continues, it could mean many more migrants seeking to reach the United States through Central America and Mexico.

The groups called it «an unprecedented movement (of people) across the Americas.»

The United States has promised that its forces will assist their Colombian and Panamanian counterparts with intelligence gathering to dismantle smuggling rings operating in the Darien Gap, which is a key route for migrants heading to the United States from South America. a senior Biden administration official said Wednesday.

The area is among the most dangerous parts of the long route to the US borders. Migrants and international human rights groups have denounced sexual assaults, robberies and murders in the remote jungle. That’s in addition to the natural hazards posed by venomous snakes and rushing rivers.

US forces could help identify smugglers in order to arrest them and locate “hideout houses” where smugglers are holding migrants, the official said, without specifying whether the US forces involved would be law enforcement military or civilian.

The United States, Panama and Colombia had announced on Tuesday an ambitious 60-day campaign to close the Darien Gap route.

The official said the 60-day period had not yet started and was still under consideration, but the effort is part of a broader campaign to prepare for an end to pandemic-era restrictions on applying for asylum at the border. USA which will expire on May 11. .

The same obstacles that make it a treacherous crossing for migrants will make it impossible for authorities to cut it off completely. It is about 60 miles of dense, trackless jungle used by organized criminal groups to smuggle drugs and people.