Panama: Population Movement DREF Operation no. MDRPA011 Final Report

Situation analysis
Description of the disaster

This operation responded to the movement of Cuban nationals through Panama. This population movement, which began in mid-November 2015, has involved passage through Ecuador and Colombia and continued unabated throughout the duration of this operation. This constant influx of migrants has led to a situation in which the Red Cross Society of Panama (RCSP) continues to provide humanitarian support following the end of this DREF operation.
The migration flows were affected by the closure of the Nicaraguan border in November 2015 and the Costa Rican border the following month in December 2015. The National Society worked to adapt to the changing humanitarian needs of this population.

The wave of migrants arriving in Paso Canoas increased concurrently with the departure of other migrants from Puerto Obaldía and the arrival of other migrants who had been in Panama City in the Chiriquí province. Flights to Mexico departed from the Chiriquí province, which increased the flow of migrants into the province.

The Costa Rican Red Cross issued an emergency appeal (MDRCR014) for the population movement in Costa Rica; it is planned that part of the CHF 602,895 budget will support the Red Cross Society of Panama’s humanitarian actions on the Panamanian – Costa Rican border.

Following migrants’ departure from Puerto Obaldía and arrival in Paso Canoas due to the closing of the Nicaraguan and Costa Rican borders, the National Society was required to adapt to the changing scenario and humanitarian needs.

In line with the plan of action for this operation, the RCSP distributed water, water purifiers and personal hygiene kits (modified from those for families to individual migrants) and provided psychosocial support (modified from the initial plan for children to better attend adult needs). The uncertainty regarding their future, financial constraints to remain in the waiting regions (Puerto Obadía) for extended periods and other factors have generated stress and challenges to their mental health.
Information on the situation of migrants was transmitted to the RCSP soliciting its help in compliance with its auxiliary role to the State on humanitarian issues. Psychosocial support (PSS) workshops began, as well as individual psychological care for some of the migrants. Furthermore, HIV-positive people identified themselves and assistance was provided so they could continue their medication.

After having delivered the care provided for in the emergency plan of action, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) learned that the flights to Mexico would begin as of 28 February 2016. The uncertainty experienced by the migrants was significant, especially those whose statuses remained unclear due to their lack of resources to purchase airline tickets. Some engaged in informal employment to earn some travel money. Sufficient food that met minimum standards was another challenge since in Paso Canoas only the National Society, Caritas, SENAFRONT, and Panama’s Immigration Service directly provided food. By 20 April 2016, 2,500 Cubans were in Paso Canoas, with an average of 100 arriving daily from Puerto Obaldía, which further strained already limited resources. .

The proliferation of mosquitoes led to health authorities issuing a national alert. As a result, fumigation and cleaning campaigns commenced throughout the country.

Panama reached an agreement with Mexico in late January 2016. As part of this agreement, Panama's Immigration Service provided a list of 1,301 Cuban nationals, but in reality this amount rose by 30 per cent in Paso Canoas, without taking into account those who were en route from Puerto Obaldía.

To date, nine Cubans are reported to have remained in Paso Canoas; the Panamanian government has issued them humanitarian visas. Panama has closed its main border posts with Colombia (Darien and Puerto Obaldía) and with Costa Rica to Cuban migrants. Since the border closure, there have been reports of an influx of Cuban migrants and hundreds of Cubans are currently stranded on the Colombia side of the border region.