Panama + 6 more

Emergency Tracking: COVID19 Pandemic Migrant Receiving Stations (MRS) Situation Report #2, 2-9 April 2020, Panama



2.522 Migrants sheltered at the MRS

215% Overcapacity in Stations nationwide

73 Pregnant women

27% Children and adolescents under 17

4 Unaccompanied children and adolescents under 17

Cases of COVID19 have been identified by community transmission in Darien

There are no official data on the number of positive migrants

No reported arrivals of migrants in Bajo Chiquito since March 29, 2020

Transit population is not ruled out through the Darien National Park


The information in this report is collected by IOM Panama staff in Darién and Chiriquí, through field monitoring, multi-sectoral assessments through key informants, as well as regular information exchange at the technical level, and at the central level of the United Nations Inter-Agency Group on Human Mobility.


The Darien region has been characterized as one of the most important points of transit for extra-regional migrants for the past eleven years. However, the Darien region is characterized as one of the most challenging for Panama's socio- economic development; a situation that increases the complexity of dealing with massive and irregular migration flows.

Since 2009, significant extra-regional migration flows have been identified, that is, migrants from other continents, such as Africa, Asia and the Caribbean region, specifically Haitians and Cubans.

In 2016, the first migration crisis from extra-regionals occurred in the Darien region, strongly impacted by the closing of borders in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Faced with all this mobility, the governments of Panama and Costa Rica established a binational agreement that would guarantee the orderly, regular and safe transit of these migrants through the territory.

In addition to these facts, on March 11th 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a state of pandemic for the COVID19 virus, which is why global sanitary measures were established in order to mitigate the contagion. Central America, responded by shutting its borders or by modifying its border management policies, as well as launching massive hygiene campaigns.

The application of these measures implied changes in the mobility of migrants transiting through Panama.

The Government of Panama decreed a state of emergency on 12 March 2020, and as a result of the related measures that were established, many operations have been severly affected, particularly the Controlled Flow Operation. For its part, the Government of Costa Rica declared a nationwide state of national emergency on 16 March 2020. As a result, the border between Panama and Costa Rica is presumed to be closed for at least another month, due to the sanitary measures set by the Government of Costa Rica.

Among the various measures decreed by both countries; include the closure of borders, a situation that has left a stock of approximately 2.500 migrants stranded since 18 March 2020 in the province of Darien. They have been mostly stranded at the Migrant Receiving Station (MRS) La Peñita and at the community of Bajo Chiquito and others in MRS Los Planes in Chiriquí. This has obviously generated a series of complications, such as overcrowding, lack of hygiene resources and food provisions, complications with solid waste management, and increased stress due to uncertainty, among others.

At the time of writing, community COVID19 transmission was confirmed at MRS La Peñita, infecting National Border Service Officers (SENAFRONT for its acronym in Spanish) and National Migration Service Officers (NMS), as well as migrants. As a result of this situation, there has been a decreased presence of field migrant control and protection units, as well as key staff and partners supporting humanitarian assistance work.

Migrants who tested positive for COVID19 after the outbreak in Darién were transferred to the former Temporary Humanitarian Assistance Station in Nicanor and are being managed by the active sanitary protocol set by Panama.

Similar to the 2015/2016 crisis, Panama has a stock of migrants stranded at three points located along their territory: Bajo Chiquito, MRS La Peñita in the province of Darien and MRS Los Planes de Gualaca in the province of Chiriquí. These can be scaled down at any time to: MRS La Peñita and reopening MRS Lajas Blancas. Currently, this is not expected to change in the short term, but this scenario may facilitate managing the stations in Darién.