Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Panama

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Panama , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 23 October 2017]
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.


Panama hosted approximately 600 refugees at the end of 1999. The majority were Central Americans (including about 250 Nicaraguans and 200 Salvadorans) and Cubans (70) who had lived in Panama for many years. The remainder were more recent arrivals of diverse nationalities, including 20 Colombians and about 10 Nigerians. Panama also hosted 1,100 Colombians whom the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regarded as being in refugee-like circumstances. At year's end, about 150 Panamanians were internally displaced.

Panama is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol. In 1998, the government established procedures for determining the claims of asylum seekers in Panama. Under the terms of "Decree 23," the National Commission for the Protection of Refugees became responsible for determining asylum claims. Prior to 1998, UNHCR adjudicated asylum claims in Panama.

Panama permits asylum applicants found to be refugees to remain in the country and, with UNHCR's cooperation, protects and assists them.

Under Decree 23, the Panamanian authorities permit asylum seekers who flee situations of generalized violence but who do not qualify as refugees under the Refugee Convention to remain in Panama for two months pending repatriation.

During the year, 40 persons applied for asylum in Panama. The Panamanian authorities considered the applications of 24 of those persons, of which it rejected 21. Sixteen applications were pending at year's end.


An estimated 580 Colombians fleeing violence in their home areas sought refuge in Panama's Darien Province in 1999, including about 30 in March and more than 550 in December. The government determined that they were not refugees but permitted them to stay while it negotiated their safe return with the Colombian authorities. Panama returned most of those who entered in March within weeks of their arrival.

The group who entered in December fled from the Colombian town of Jurado, 25 miles (40 km) from the Panamanian border, after Colombian guerrillas overran a Colombian Navy base there. They sought refuge in Jaque, a small Panamanian coastal town. At year's end, nearly 400 members of the group remained in Jaque.

In 1998, Panama had forcibly returned dozens of Colombians. However, UNHCR expressed satisfaction with Panama's improved treatment of Colombian asylum seekers during the year. Unlike previous years, in 1999 Panama had granted UNHCR "unhindered access to new arrivals andŠprovided the Colombians emergency coordination with ONPAR [the National Commission for the Protection of the Displaced] and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through the Catholic Church," UNHCR said.

In 1999, UNHCR helped provide documentation to 600 of the 1,100 Colombians living in refugee-like circumstances in the Darien region. Most entered Panama prior to the 1998 passage of Decree 23.

Internally Displaced Persons

Colombian guerrillas and paramilitaries made regular incursions into Panama during 1999. Colombian guerrillas entered the Panamanian town of La Miel in May and again in October. On both occasions they temporarily displaced many of the town's residents. Some 140 other Panamanians, primarily indigenous persons, remained displaced at year's end, also as a result of actions by armed Colombian groups.

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