Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

Panama: Treatment of Chinese residents, including their children who were born in Panama, by the general population and authorities; state protection available to Chinese business people who are victims of crime (2008 - September 2010)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 12 October 2010
Citation / Document Symbol PAN103596.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Panama: Treatment of Chinese residents, including their children who were born in Panama, by the general population and authorities; state protection available to Chinese business people who are victims of crime (2008 - September 2010), 12 October 2010, PAN103596.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e4384a02.html [accessed 20 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Recently arrived Chinese immigrants in Panama may face discrimination by mainstream society, as well as the Chinese-Panamanian community, largely because of cultural and language differences (MRG Jan. 2009; US 11 Mar. 2010, Sec. 6). Minority Rights Group International (MRG), writing in its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples, reports that second- and third-generation Chinese in Panama are "seen as distinct from recent immigrants and generally are accepted into Panamanian society" (MRG Jan. 2009).

The online English newspaper Panama News purported to expose mainstream media and community attitudes towards Chinese people in a 12 October 2009 article when it reported that President Martinelli announced that only Asian visitors would be required to deposit "a large sum of money" in the National Bank of Panama (Banco Nacional de Panamá) to enter the country. According to the newspaper, the requirement, which would be part of new immigration legislation (Panama News 1 Oct. 2009), met with few protests from people outside the Chinese community, and the media used the announcement as occasion to express "anti-Chinese attitudes" (ibid. 12 Oct. 2009). A delegation from the Chinese Association of Panama responded by going on the country's Telemetro television news show and saying that its community supports legal migration, but that immigration papers for Chinese are usually delayed and that only 80 naturalizations of Chinese immigrants were approved in 2008 (ibid. 1 Oct. 2009).

Information on whether the immigration law was amended in keeping with the President's announcement was not found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response. However, a 10 September 2010 article in Hora Cero, a Panamanian online newspaper, reporting on the eleven-day detention of four Chinese people upon entering the country, mentions that [translation] "it is no secret that the Chinese are charged an exorbitant amount of money" to enter the country.

The Hora Cero article explains that the Chinese visitors were detained even though one of them had a Panamanian identity card and the others had legal passports (Hora Cero 10 Sept. 2010). They were reportedly denied external communication for seven days under the orders of the Auxiliary District Attorney's Office of the Republic (Fiscal Auxiliar de la República) and the Delegate of the District Attorney Head of the Division of Crimes in Human Trafficking (Delegado de la Fiscalía Jefe de la División de Delitos de Trafico de Personas), who were [translation] "supposedly saving their lives" (ibid.). According to Hora Cero, this type of protection is provided upon request only, and none of the four detained persons had requested it (ibid.). The article accuses the authorities of demonstrating [translation] "negligence, incapacity, disrespect for human rights, and ignorance of the Law," and maintains that, even though no charges were pressed, the people were held as prisoners by the Department of Judicial Investigation (Dirección de Investigación Judicial, DIJ) (ibid.). Further information on the incident could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Treatment of Chinese business people

The MRG reports that new Chinese immigrants "sometimes encounter bureaucratic difficulties in practicing professions" (Jan. 2009). The international non-governmental organization (NGO) also points out that Panama's constitution "forbids any non-Panamanians [such as new Chinese immigrants] from owning a retail business" (MRG Jan. 2009). However, the rule is generally not enforced (ibid.; US 11 Mar. 2010, Sec. 6), and, MRG notes, newcomers can seek a local partner (Jan. 2009).

According to the MRG, "[l]egal as well as illegal Chinese immigrants are accorded fewer legal protections for their trade activities than Panamanian citizens" (Jan. 2009). A delegation from the Chinese Association of Panama also "complained that many of their businesses serve high crime areas and don't get very much police protection" (Panama News 1 Oct. 2009). However, the National Police of Panama (Policía Nacional de Panamá, PNP) has established a program called "Comercios Vigilantes" (Vigilant Businesses) in commercial sectors as a way to prevent crime; its success depends on the participation and coordination of employees, owners, customers and the public (Panama n.d.). Information on the effectiveness of the program in protecting Chinese businesses could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to La Prensa, a newspaper in Panama, Panamanian society accepts many forms of discrimination, such as referring to Chinese owners of supermarkets, which are in almost every neighbourhood, as "'el chino'," "'la china'," and "'el chinito'," even if they have been there for years (La Prensa 12 Oct. 2008).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Hora Cero [Panama]. 10 September 2010. Eduardo Pinnock. "Denuncian difícil situación de tres chinos." [Accessed 5 Oct. 2010]

Minority Rights Group International (MRG). January 2009. "Chinese Panamanians." World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. [Accessed 29 Sept. 2010]

Panama. N.d. Policía Nacional de Panama. "Comunidad." [Accessed 6 Oct. 2010]

Panama News. 12 October 2009. Vol. 15, No. 6. "Socially Accepted Racism." [Accessed 29 Sept. 2010]

_____. 1 October 2009. Vol. 15, No. 15. Eric Jackson. "Martinelli Proposes New Anti-Chinese Discrimination in Immigration Law." [Accessed 29 Sept. 2010]

La Prensa [Panama]. 12 October 2008. Roxana Muñoz. "La discriminación sutil." [Accessed 5 Oct. 2010]

United States (US). 11 March 2010. "Panama." Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2009. [Accessed 5 Oct. 2010]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact representatives at the Centro Cultural Chino Panameño and the Policía Nacional de Panamá were unsuccessful.

Internet sites, including: Agencia Latina de Información, Amnesty International (AI), Center for International Development and Conflict Management Minorities at Risk Project, European Country of Origin Information Network (ecoi.net), Human Rights Watch, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Refworld, Parlamento Centroamericano (PARLACEN), United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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