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A quick and comprehensive resolution to Panama’s most acute refugee crisis is imminently achievable. Unfortunately, that’s been the case for over a decade.
More than ten years ago, targeted violence drove more than 800 rural Colombians from their homes, and over the border into Panama. Panama allowed these families to remain in the Darien jungle under a Temporary Humanitarian Protection protocol, but did not allow them to work or travel freely throughout the rest of the country.
Even this limited status has been in constant jeopardy, and many of the refugees fear they could be forced back into Colombia at any time.
For years Panama has promised to regularize these refugees, grant them permanent residency, and allow them to work and leave the jungle. Last year, a plan to do just this became law, with implementation scheduled for the beginning of this year. But the deadline was pushed back to March, and regularization for the Darien refugees – now painfully close – remains out of reach.
It’s encouraging that UNCHR continues to press the Panamanian government on this issue, but more needs to be done. According to contacts in Panama City, high-level diplomatic pressure from the U.S. has the greatest chance of securing a solution. We therefore hope that departing U.S. Ambassador Phyllis Powers will publicly encourage full implementation of the permanent residency law, and that her successor, Ambassador-designate Jonathan Farrar, will raise the issue regularly during his term.