Panama to launch migrant deportation flights in coming weeks, US says

Jose Raul Mulino takes oath of office as Panama's President, in Panama City

(Reuters) - Panama will launch deportation flights for irregular migrants in the coming weeks, part of a deal with the United States, a U.S. official said on Tuesday, after the new president in the Central American country pledged to bolster its borders.

"We hope to start as soon as possible," said Eric Jacobstein, a Western Hemisphere official with the U.S. State Department, at a press conference in Panama City.

Panama's new president, Jose Raul Mulino, took office on Monday vowing to curb unlawful immigration. His government immediately signed an agreement with the United States to end passage through the dangerous Darien jungle linking Central America to Colombia, which has become a major route for the mostly U.S.-bound migrants.

The U.S. in turn agreed to cover the costs of deporting migrants from Panama.

A record 520,000 migrants crossed the Darien last year, many of them children and largely from Venezuela, Ecuador and Haiti. The number of migrant crossings there so far this year has edged up compared to 2023.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by Anthony Esposito and David Alire Garcia)