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Emergency Tracking: COVID19 Pandemic Migrant Receiving Stations (MRS) Situation Report #7, 08-14 May 2020, Panama

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The Darién region has been characterized as one of the most important points of transit for extra-regional migrants for the past eleven years. However, the Darién 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 significant extra-regional migration crisis occurred, that is, migrants from other continents such as Africa, Asia and the Caribbean region, specifically Haitians and Cubans.
In 2016, the first migration crisis by extra-regionals occurred in the province of Darién, influenced by the closing of borders in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Faced with this situation, the governments of Panama and Costa Rica established an agreement known as 'Operation Controlled Flow', that would guarantee the orderly, regular and safe transit of these migrants through the territory.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a state of pandemic for the COVID-19 virus on 11 March 2020, 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. In addition, organizations such as SICA have drawn up regional work plans for the contingency of the pandemic.

Since 12 March 2020, Panama has been under a state of emergency, with closed borders, as a result of the measures imposed to contain the virus. Due to the closing of the Costa Rican borders on 16 March, Operation Controlled Flow has been severely affected. Currently, there are 2,528 migrants stranded in the national territory, distributed as follows: 1,982 in the province of Darién (1,697 in MRS La Peñita, 130 in Bajo Chiquito, and 165 in MRS Lajas Blancas), and 540 migrants in the province of Chiriquí at MRS Los Planes. Borders continue to be closed until 22 May according to provisions from the Government of Panama.
On 11 May, the Government of Panama announced the plan for the gradual reopening of the country through 6 blocks. The first block, which began on Wednesday 13 May, comprises the reopening of retail businesses through online sales, mechanical workshops, technical services (plumbing, electricity, masonry, among others), and artisan fishing. The start dates for the other phases have not been announced, and the government has stated that they will depend on compliance with the rules and the behaviour of the virus in the coming weeks.

As of 14 May, Panama has 9,118 confirmed cases and a total of 260 deaths from COVID-19. In terms of border provinces, Darién reports a total of 195 cases, and Chiriquí a total of 176 positive. Since the beginning of community transmission of COVID-19 in Darién at MRS La Peñita, no serious cases have been reported; those patients with moderate disease due to the virus have been treated with a protocol of staying in a hotel-hospital in Panama City. At the time of writing this report, 34 positive COVID-19 cases have been reported (6 currently in Panama for being moderate), 22 have been recovered, and 116 remain in MRS Lajas Blancas because of possible contacts. So far, 322 swab tests have been performed in the MRS. The birth of a child was also reported, where the mother and child were treated at the Mother and Child Center in Metetí.

In the ERM of Los Planes in Chiriquí, one birth was reported, and the mother and daughter have been transferred and have received appropriate treatment. Two cases of leishmaniasis were also reported in adults and one child, who are receiving appropriate treatment. So far, zero cases of COVID-19 have been reported in MRS Los Planes.

On the other hand, last Friday, 8 May, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) requested the Government of Panama to provide information about migrants in the Migrant Receiving Stations in Darién, specifically for MRS La Peñita. This request is made in the context of the Court's ruling in the case of Jesús Vélez Loor, in order to prevent irreparable damage to the rights of migrants.

International Organization for Migration
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