1. Description of refugee situation
Where does the population of concern live?
Mostly in urban settings.
Figures as of December 2019
Population of concern category
Urban and rural
Urban and rural
(Source: Data provided by Government and partners to UNHCR)
Find live data, information and fact sheets on the refugee situation in Panama on the UNHCR Operational Portal as well as Global Focus.
2. Panama's response to the refugee situation
An overview of how the Government has structured its ability to respond to the refugee situation, with the support of partners.
Panama officially joined the process leading to the Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework (MIRPS in Spanish) in July 2017. This lead to the creation of the Panama MIRPS chapter, which was developed through a national consultation process that took stock of previously assumed commitments made within the framework of the 2014 Brazil Plan of Action and the 2016 San Jose Action Statement.
These national consultations benefitted from a wide range of participants including national and governmental institutions, UN agencies, civil society organizations, the private sector and donors.
Importance was given to the perspectives of persons of concern, most of which were consulted in Panama City and the city of Colón. Based on these consultations, a National Plan of Action was developed with strategies, programmes and actions to strengthen protection and solutions of asylum-seekers and refugees in Panama. In order to coordinate the MIRPS in Panama, an Executive Committee was established conformed by the Ministry of Government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UNHCR. This committee has two levels, a technical and a high-rank political level.
In July 2019, a new government took office, validating the content of the national action plan, formally recognizing the MIRPS and assuming the commitments. The National Plan was reviewed and updated in order to analyse achievements made and include new commitments to respond to the increasing displacement dynamics in the country.
Which partnerships have been strengthened or have been made possible thanks to the implementation of the Global Compact of Refugees?
Panama is a country of destination and transit for people with protection needs. The majority of asylum seekers are from Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador and Cuba, among other countries. Similarly, Panama is along the transit route for people from different continents traveling within mixed movements.
Panama is one of the seven countries participating in the MIRPS, the regional application of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) process, which is included in the Global Compact on Refugees.
The stakeholders involved in the MIRPS in Panama include the Ministry of Government and the National Office for the Attention of Refugees (ONPAR), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Public Security, the National Migration Service (SNM) and SENAFRONT. It also includes the Ministries of Social Development, Education, Health, and Labour. The MIRPS also provides for the coordination with government institutions like the National Women’s Institute, Ombudsman’s Office, and the National Secretariat for Children, Adolescents and Family (SENNIAF). On the other hand, work is also advanced with the civil society, mainly the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), HIAS, Pastoral de Movilidad Humana (PMH), Refugee Education Trust (RET) and the Panamanian Red Cross (CRP), and different UN Agencies.
In line with the the new commitments already included in the national action plan, strategic partnerships will be expanded to include private sector and entities such as the mental health department (under the Ministry of Health), the National Institute for Vocational Training and Training for Human Development (INADEH) and Universities.
3. Steps towards meeting the objectives of the Compact
The following steps have been taken in seeking to meeting objective 1 of the GCR:
- Through the Executive Decree No. 5 (16 January 2018), panama adopted a new legal framework to regulate the refugee determination process (RSD). This new instrument modifies the RSD system established In the previous legislation (adopted in 1998) and prescribes the gender sensitive interpretation of the legal framework, ensuring that all individuals in affected communities have access to their rights on an equal footing, considering factors of age, gender and diversity (art. 4). Moreover, the Decree explicitly enshrines child protection by including specific safeguards for children and adolescents with international protection needs, considering their best interest, as well as the implementation of the necessary measures for their protection.
- To strengthen the protection of children forced to flee, the Ministry of Government and the National Secretariat for Children and Adolescents signed a Protocol that contains the provision to assist unaccompanied or separated children and adolescents with international protection needs. This protocol includes guarantees on RSD procedure, accompaniment, legal assistance, priority action, guidance and mechanisms to determine the best interest of the child.
- Through Executive Decree N.10 of 16 January of 2019, the procedure to recognize the status of statelessness was approved. This legal document will allow stateless people in Panama to have a legal status, to access basic rights and, eventually, obtain a nationality.
- The Ministry of Government and the Panamanian Passport Authority signed an agreement to provide travel documents to refugees recognized by the National Commission for the Protection of Refugees (CONARE).
- The University of Panama approved a resolution to eliminate the foreign cost for recognized refugees, giving them equal payment fees as nationals.
- The National Office for the Attention to Refugees (ONPAR) has shown interest in receiving technical assistance for the strengthening of the national database to improve the registration mechanisms and tool, so it can be used to identify profiles, special needs and case management.
- In terms of access to mental health, a referral mechanism has been established between the Ministry of Health and partners and NGOs working on supporting mental health programmes for asylum seekers and refugees. The department of mental health of the Ministry of Health has been willing to work with refugees and asylum seekers and receive training to better address their specific mental health issues.
- Strengthening the capacities of local authorities through the development of training sessions on refugee status determination and on their duties and rights. This training has been extended to organizations that provide assistance to ensure the identification, assistance and proper referral of persons of concern.
The following steps have been taken in seeking to meeting Objective 2 of the GCR:
- The Mayor´s Office of Panama has signed an agreement to include Panamanians as beneficiaries of the “Talento sin Fronteras” programme. The project was created in 2018 by Manpowergroup, HIAS and UNHCR to foster the employability of refugees and asylum seekers in Panama by providing training on soft and technical skills. This agreement links Talento sin Fronteras with the Resilience Strategy of the City Hall of Panama - part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s global project “100 Resilient Cities”. The inclusion of local population in the programme seeks to promote social cohesion between host and refugee population through the exchange of knowledge and experiences, one of the components of the Resilience Strategy. This collaboration framework is a clear example of a strategic alliance and good practice initiative between the private sector, the United Nations, civil society, and local government, contributing positively to the achievement of the objectives of the Global Compact for Refugees by enhancing access to labour markets for refugees and asylum seekers.
- The Executive Decree No. 21, adopted in May 2019, approved the issuance of work permits for asylum seekers who were admitted to the procedure. In addition, the Ministry of Labour issued a resolution to speed up the work permit procedures allowing people with pending renewal of their work permits can continue working without suspending their employment.
- The Ministry of Government, the National Institute for Vocational Training and Training for Human Development (INADEH) and UNHCR signed a letter of understanding that allows access of recognized refugees to training opportunities at national level. This means that refugees have equal access to vocational training and education programmes.