MIRPS in Panama
Panama is home to nearly 14,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. The population is mainly composed of persons from Colombia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, El Salvador and Cuba. Particularly during the last two years, asylum claims from Venezuelans and Nicaraguans have increased exponentially. COVID-19 have greatly impacted recognized refugees and asylum seekers in Panama, as a result of the mobility restrictions and loss of their source of income, both within the formal and informal labour market). This has also affected their emotional well-being.
To address the situation, Panama as part of the MIRPS since 2017, has advanced in the implementation of its commitments to provide protection and solutions for the forcibly displaced. The support of the international community in the areas of improved registration system, inclusion of refugees and asylum seekers in socio-economic programs, increased presence of ONPAR in border areas and enhanced capacity of national government officials from different line ministries will be very much welcomed to address the needs of the thousands of persons that are seeking safety and protection in the country.
Jobs and Livelihoods
© UNHCR/Roger Arnold
Increased overall recognition of refugees and issuance of work permits.
In 2020, the number of applicants formally admitted to the asylum procedure increased by 240%, the access to indefinite work permits after reaching the required three years increased by 80% and 103 people with refugee status became permanent residents. Also, the existing backlog of pending asylum requests was reduced by 30% in 2020.
Increased issuance of documentation
Interinstitutional missions were carried out with the participation of ONPAR, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Civil Registry, Migration Service and the Ministry of Labour, to remote areas hosting refugee populations in Darien and Guna Yala region. The missions were accompanied by ombudsman offices, civil society and UNHCR. Nearly 600 documentation requests were processed, including new applications for the recognition of refugee status, the renewal of refugee cards, permanent residency, and work permits. Also legal advice, and persons at risk of statelessness were assisted and counseled.
Recognition of statelessness
As part of the implementation of the D.E. No. 10 of January 5, 2019 that approves the procedure for the recognition of statelessness, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently recognized the first stateless person in Panama. This is an important step forward and allows for future recognition of cases and enables statelessness persons access to basic rights. Government entities and partners are trained on prevention of statelessness and the national legal framework in Panama.
Employability for refugees, asylum seekers and host communities
Implementation of the in-person and online “Talents Without Borders” programme in alliance with Manpower Group and HIAS continued, to strengthen capacities and skills of displaced persons, and promote their access to the formal labour market and thus their integration in the country. Implementation of a Female Entrepreneurs Programme in alliance with Ciudad del Saber foundation has started benefitting a total of 76 persons.
Access to professional training for refugees
The National Institute for Vocational Training and Human Development (INADEH) has formally enabled access for refugees to their vocational training programmes, which were previously only accessible for Panamanian citizens and foreigners with more than 10 years residency in the country.
Access to Panama University was achieved for refugees in similar conditions as Panamanians. This means that the admission costs for refugees were lowered to the costs for Panamanians, recognizing their protection status in the country.
Reinforced ONPAR presence
in critical border areas such as Darien province, in order to deal with persons entering in the country as part of the mixed movements through the Darien Gap. This has facilitated the identification and processing of specific cases who have requested international protection in Panama. In coordination with the civil registry, migration service and ombudsman office, registration of 90 new borns was achieved during 2020 in Darien province. All of them were part of the persons on the move, born in Darien province, while their parents were transiting the country. This is an important achievement in order to mitigate the risks of possible statelessness in the future.
Support education programmes for displaced populations and host communities in critical areas
(including border regions). Support vocational training programmes to enhance skill training of refugees. Provide scholarships for higher education; continue with advocacy to reduce tuition costs for refugee students in different universities. Support education authorities with the creation of an instruction manual ‘Procedure and placement tests’ for continuation of studies of refugees and validation of education records of different countries of origin.
Promote and establish a protocol between the Ministry of Government (ONPAR) and Ministry of Health
(Department of mental health and other services) for the attention and referral of refugees and asylum-seekers who require psychosocial and clinical assistance. Improve access to specialized health services for those with chronic diseases. Support the implementation of general basic health care and reproductive health services through mobile clinics in prioritized and remote regions of the country.
Promote of the extension and validity period of work permits for refugees and asylum seekers admitted to procedure.
Enhance income generation alternatives (self employment and labour insertion) for refugees and asylum-seekers
by increasing alliances with the private sector and civil society and explore alternatives and put in motion concrete strategies for the economic inclusion of refugees in job fairs and internships. Also promote financial inclusion through alliances with the banking sector in the country, enabling the opening of bank accounts for refugees, access to credits, etc.
Promote the effective inclusion of vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, to social protection networks and special assistance programs in the country
Continue strengthening the asylum system
by working closely together with the CONARE (including technical support) and ONPAR. Also, the government registration system and procedures will be enhanced.