Covid strands 1,000 Cuban, Haitian migrants in Colombia

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File image of the town of Capurgana, near Necocli, and the Gulf of Uraba during a Colombian Air Force helicopter flight in Choco department, Colombia, near the border with Panama, on October 14, 2020

The closing of Panama's border due to Covid has stranded a thousand migrants -- most from Haiti and Cuba -- in Colombia, as they had planned to sneak across on their way to the United States, officials said Thursday.

Now in makeshift tents on the beach of Necocli, these migrants hope to sneak into Panama en route to the US by crossing the dangerous Gulf of Uraba to the Colombian border town of Acandi, emergency management director Cesar Zuniga told AFP.

Acandi, a tiny Colombian town near the Panamanian border, however, has been unwilling to let the group come in, Zuniga said.

"We plan to install toilets (...) and water tanks for them because they relieve themselves in the square," an official from Necocli, a town of about 40,000 inhabitants, said.

Most of the migrants are Cuban and Haitian, including about 100 children and pregnant women, he said.

But there are also other foreign nationals among them, especially from African countries, including Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon, DRCongo, Guinea and Somalia.

Acandi Mayor Alexander Murillo argues that if the group got stranded in his town, which is even smaller than Necocli, there would be a "health risk" for residents due to Covid-19; as such, he urged authorities to set up a humanitarian corridor to Panama's border.

Colombia's migration service did not respond to his request.

Murillo said Colombia's recent resumption of international flights has helped feed the surge in migrants into the area.

Colombia's Gulf of Uraba is one of the main crossing points for migrants, some of whom also sometimes come from Asia, to reach the United States by the Caribbean, with stops in Central America.

Seven migrants drowned on January 4 when an illegal boat sank in this area.

Colombia decreed the closure of its land and river borders on March 16, 2020 and has extended the order until March 1, 2021, to stop the spread of the coronavirus.