If Panama Closes the Darién Gap, Would Evangelicals Care?

Migrant rights have been off-radar for many Panamanian Christians. But as pressures increase, some are speaking out ahead of this weekend’s general elections.

On May 5, Panamanians will vote for a new president. The outcome of this election may have consequences for far more than its 4.4 million residents; it could change the migration reality for the hundreds of thousands of people traveling from South America, Asia, and Africa who pass through the Central American country en route to the United States.

Leading in the polls is José Raúl Mulino, a candidate for Realizando Metas (Realizing Goals), a right-wing populist party founded by disgraced president Ricardo Martinelli. He has vowed to shut down the Darién Gap, a densely forested jungle area that migrants must traverse to enter Panama from the bordering country of Colombia.

“We’re going to close Darién and we’re going to repatriate every one of these people, respecting their human rights,” said Raúl Mulino in April.

For many Panamanians, there was no migrant crisis before 2022. After passing through the Darién gap, migrants passed through the country on government buses to the Costa Rican border. But after a shift in US migrant policy sent many back to Central America a couple years ago, hundreds have since moved to Panama City and a handful of small towns. Residents have begun to blame them for crime and for overwhelming their sanitation systems.

Though evangelicals have largely been on the sidelines, many leaders say they should have done more.

“The church does not see the refugee problem as their own problem,” said Panamanian missionary Robert Bruneau, a regional leader with United World Mission. “They believe it is something the state should do and are not aware of the great opportunity they have to graciously and honorably serve someone who …

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