The mass mobilization of migrants began in November 2015 with the closing of the Nicaraguan border, resulting in huge crowds building up on the Costa Rican and Panama side. Panama detected the illegal entry of many Cuban nationals, leading to a first intervention in the province of Colon and the provision of primary care to approximately 1,000 migrants travelling by sea. Once these migrants had been assisted, they were sent to Panama so that they could continue their journey to the Paso Canoas border crossing.
This situation led to a concentration of more than 5,800 Cuban nationals stranded in the border, and the Costa Rican National Commission for Risk Prevention and Emergency Assistance (CNE) launched an operation to enable humanitarian assistance of 43 temporary shelters in 33 different communities across the country, the activation of 15 municipal emergency committees and more than 500 volunteers, and allocated more than 5 million US dollars to operating and administrative maintenance.
On 18 December 2015, Costa Rica closed its Paso Canoas border to Cuban migrants, generating a situation of uncertainty among migrants. The Red Cross Society of Panama (RCSP) initiated its efforts through its Baru branch, where it provided first aid and transported patients to medical centres. The various needs identified at the onset of this situation, led to an immediate humanitarian intervention by the Costa Rican Red Cross (CRRC) which was later joined by other government institutions, churches and organized communities among others. All of the organizations jointly supported the setting up of 37 collective centres, addressed food, water, and sanitation needs, and promoted health.
Around this time, the first flights arrived to airlift migrants to Mexico. Once all migrants on the original list had been airlifted, the Panamanian government ceased its actions along the border, leaving migration authorities to deal with the migrants that had been left behind because they had not been part of the original list, and the ones who were on their way. This situation increased health care needs due to the emergence of diseases, including the death of a Cuban migrant attributed to the AH1N1 flu virus. Once the government suspended its actions, the people in greatest need were assisted by the Catholic Church, among other efforts to provide food assistance.
Meanwhile, the migration authorities continued to provide support with what the funding they managed to raise, even if it was below Sphere minimum standards.
On 12 April, these migrants were transported back to the Paso Canoas border crossing with Panama, by Security Ministry vehicles, which exacerbated the problem given the precarious conditions and the number of people involved. This led to several institutions deciding to open a "humanitarian aid post" in order to assess health, basic food and hygiene conditions. This post operated from April to June 2016 in Paso Canoas and was managed by the Costa Rican Red Cross, Immigration and security forces. Additionally, the immigration authorities of Costa Rica opened a temporary detention centre, which housed an average of 1,380 migrants, to shelter them while their immigration status was being resolved. Meanwhile, Nicaraguan police, with support from the army, reinforced their border surveillance in order to prevent these migrants from entering Nicaragua.
Actions by the RCSP continued until the government was finally pressured into reactivating its staff and the National Civil Protection System, which happened after migrants, together with the local population, blocked the roads to the border. The airlifts to Mexico finally resumed in late May 2016, although some were unable to buy their tickets.
So far, more than 2,000 migrants have entered the Panama country both legally and illegally, and they are now travelling across Costa Rica through the northern border area of Los Chiles, and Peñas Blancas in the region of Guanacaste. The Panamanian borders at Darien and Guna Yala were closed to prevent other migrants from entering the country.
As of July 2016, the Costa Rican Red Cross is still managing two Migrant Care Centres in coordination with CNE, Immigration, Security Forces and Costa Rican Social Security (CCSS). One centre is located in southern Costa Rica in Kilometro 20 in Rio Claro de Puntarenas, serving around 300 people, while the second centre is located in northern Costa Rica in El Jobo, La Cruz de Guanacaste, serving around 200 people. These centres provide temporary accommodations, food, first aid and transportation to medical centres, water and hygiene, as well as psychosocial support (PSS) to the migrants. The CRRC contributes to the management of the centres, volunteer-related operating expenses and the National Society's migration operation coordinator’s salary, while the government covers all costs related to rent, food, water, sanitation and hygiene. Additionally, a constant supply of food has been maintained in coordination with the Costa Rican CNE, and the government has been paying for all of the utilities (water and electricity) and absorbing other costs associated with the operation of these collective centres. Reports continue to circulate about other migrants from assorted countries whom entered Panama through the Darien from the Panama border and are being denied passage.