The Colombian Navy has raised this Thursday to 26 the estimated number of missing migrants on the route that goes from the island of San Andrés to Nicaragua.
In addition, it has confirmed that some fishermen from Puerto Limón (Costa Rica) found a boat a few days ago with "similar characteristics" to the missing one.
Authorities from Colombia, Nicaragua and Costa Rica are working together to rescue the migrants, mostly Venezuelans.
At the moment, only personal items, diapers and documents of some of the disappeared have been found on the coast of San Juan del Norte (Nicaragua).
The migrants set sail from San Andrés at dawn on December 17.
They were crammed into a boat intended for artisanal fishing, which usually has three or four crew members.
Every available space was used, with two children under the age of one nestled in the arms of their relatives.
There were no minimum conditions to transport passengers: the boat had a single engine and did not have navigation and communication instruments.
Her gray color, which helped her go unnoticed in front of the control of the authorities, now makes it difficult to locate her in the rescue work.
The intention was to avoid going through the Darien jungle, which is not only physically demanding but is known for robberies, sexual abuse of women and the disappearance of migrants.
However, the danger of traveling by open sea to reach Nicaragua is no less significant, Octavio Gutiérrez Herrera, commander of the San Andrés y Providencia Specific Command of the Colombian Navy, explained by telephone.
“This time of year is very critical for sailing, due to strong waves and a strong breeze that make navigation difficult,” he comments.
The number of migrants facing the danger of this route has skyrocketed in the last year. Colombian Navy
At least 18 of the missing people are Venezuelans.
This was reported by the National Organization for Maritime Rescue and Safety (ONSA), a civil association recognized as an auxiliary organization of the National Institute of Aquatic Spaces of Venezuela.
The director of Maritime Security, Luis Inciarte Santaella, explains by telephone that the relatives began to contact the ONSA on December 18.
The information did not flow at first as on other occasions: some were afraid to give information for fear of exposing their loved ones to the immigration authorities.
Despite the initial omissions, ONSA and the network of relatives eventually managed to compile a list of the disappeared, which has grown over the days.
From an initial estimate of 17, the figure of 26 has been reached. In addition to Venezuelans, the list includes three Syrians, three Ecuadorians and two Colombian crew members.
It is estimated that seven passengers were minors.
Inciarte says that the migrants spent a couple of days in San Andrés before the trip.
They exchanged contacts that later served to create the network of relatives.
And they shared time with another group that left at the same time in another smaller boat.
The migrants from that other boat reported that the weather conditions made them return to the coast once the trip began.
"The sea was broken," they commented.
The larger boat had already gone farther and did not return.
Venezuelan migration told 1,700 times in his own handwriting
The number of migrants facing the danger of this route has skyrocketed in the last year.
The Colombian Navy estimates that in 2022 it has rescued more than 700 people, who must then leave the island.
Two shipwrecks have occurred, in August and October.
The missing were never found in those accidents, which total around 20 people.
Since 2019, Venezuelans have been the main users of this route, which was previously used mostly by Cubans, Haitians and Senegalese.
The naval forces of Colombia, Nicaragua and Costa Rica continue with the search for the passengers of an irregular vessel. Colombian Navy
Commander Gutiérrez explains that migrants usually enter the island as tourists, coming from Colombian cities with air connections to the archipelago.
They pay a tax, present their hotel reservations and their exit tickets.
Your stay in Colombia is not irregular.
However, later they embark on unauthorized boats, managed by organized trafficking networks.
The cost of the journey to get to Nicaragua and avoid the Darién, Panama and Costa Rica can be around 2,000 dollars, according to Inciarte.
The Navy has stated that "efforts continue" after 12 days of searching.
According to the protocol, the active search will last up to 30 days after the incident.
Afterwards, a passive search will be maintained for a maximum of five years.
The Navy will continue to receive information electronically or from the local community, but will no longer conduct aerial or ground tracking.
ONSA points out that the fluid dialogue with the Colombian Navy has not been able to be replicated with the Nicaraguan Naval Forces.
In addition, Inciarte comments that he feels that there has been less interest in the media coverage of the incident because it deals with migrants and that some bureaucratic measures hindered a more efficient response.
“The search should have been done immediately.
Every minute counts at sea, immediacy is essential, ”he emphasizes.
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