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Panama: Site assessment of Migrant Receiving Stations (MRS), Round 1 - March, 2021

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On January 8, 2021, the Government of Panama ordered the reopening of land borders for the entry and exit of nationals, residents and foreigners; however, the Government of Costa Rica, within its plan for the gradual reopening, stipulated the reopening of its land borders, for non-nationals, as of April 5, 2021.

Despite the closure of land borders between Panama and Costa Rica, the flow of migrants between the two borders has continued both regularly (with bilateral authorization between the two governments) and irregularly (with migrants voluntarily withdrawing from Operation Controlled Flow and crossing the PanamaCosta Rica border). On the other hand, the Panama-Colombia border presents a different scenario due to the terrain conditions in the Darien, the border area between the two countries, which has high levels of porosity.
This situation creates a major challenge in ensuring an orderly and regular entry of extraregional migrants into Panama.

The period of January, February and March has historically been characterized by high flows of migrants entering Panama through the Darien, since the conditions of the summer season cause a decrease in the riverbeds, facilitating passage through the jungle because there are no flooded areas.

In the last weeks of March 2021, there was an increase in the flow of migrants, according to official records at the Bajo Chiquito Migrant Receiving Station (MRS). At the end of the month, there were a total of 2,122 migrants sheltered in the three MRSs in Darien. During March, physical access for IOM and government personnel to the Los Planes MRE in Chiriqui has been a challenge due to an outbreak of COVID-19 that occurred at the station during the first weeks of March.


The information in this report was collected by IOM Panama staff in Darien, through field monitoring by means of multisectoral assessments, and obtained through field observations and interviews with key informants beginning in the second week of March. A total of seven representatives (six men and one woman) of the National Border Service (SENAFRONT) and the National Migration Service (SNM), the entities in charge of managing the lodging sites, were interviewed. As for field observations, a participant observation was conducted at each MRS located in Darien; however, in the case of the MRS Los Planes it was not possible to conduct these field visits.

On the other hand, statistics on the migrant population sheltered in the MRSs were obtained through the Government of Panama. It should be noted that the government institutions in charge maintain a systematic registry by sex, age and nationality of the number of persons sheltered, situation contrary to the registration of migrant population under vulnerable conditions, which is only carried out when cases that require priority attention are identified. Therefore, the data on migrants in vulnerable conditions refer to those who have been identified and do not represent the totality in the housing sites