Panama – Analysis of flow monitoring surveys: Chiriqui, Panama 17th-22nd of June, 2019
Migrant flows through irregular and unsafe channels, coming from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean and using South America and Central America as region of transit to Northern America, have increased in the last decade and last years, and have also gained in visibility, especially in Panama. In 2018, 9,222 migrants irregularly crossed the international border between Colombia and Panama. In the first half of 2019, 13,673 migrants crossed the same border.¹ Due to the substantial increase in irregular, extraregional migration flows, particularly in the last few months (2,514 registered cases in April, 2,838 in May, 3,065 in June), Panamanian authorities requested IOM support in collecting data on migrant profiles, routes, vulnerabilities, needs and intentions. The Temporal Center for Humanitarian Assistance (ETAH) of Los Planes was chosen to conduct data collection activities. The methodology and findings are detailed in this report.
The report highlights that several routes and trends can be identified. First, migrants coming from African and Asian countries, often with the help of international smuggling networks, arrive predominantly by airplane to Latin America — to Brazil, Ecuador and Peru in particular. The primary reasons for leaving their country of origin are civil conflict and violence. Pull factors such as the appealing socio-economic conditions, political stability and believed ease of access to asylum procedures place the United States of America in the predominant position among the preferred countries of destination.
On the other hand, push factors for Haitians are more related to natural disasters and the lack of economic opportunities that followed the earthquake of 2010.
Countries of residence are usually Brazil and Chile, where they spend between one and three years on average before undertaking the journey towards northern America. In the case of Cuban emigration, migrants fly to Guyana and travel to Panama by land.
According to migrants’ experience, the probability of being exposed to physical and psychological harm is considerably high throughout the entire journey, especially between Colombia and Panama. This is mainly due to the crossing of what is known as the Darien Gap, a roadless, narrow strip of wild tropical land that lies between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
These constantly evolving migration flows challenge government`s migration management capacities. Regarding assistance to migrants, challenges include, among others: the lack of resources, installations and services to meet needs derived from increased number of migrants to assist and protect, especially regarding women migrants and family units; the multiple religious and cultural backgrounds; the lack of interpreters to ensure communication between officials and migrants; the absence of diplomatic missions of the countries of origin in the countries of transit; the unavailability of reliable, accurate, disaggregated and comprehensive data on the situation.