Panama- Emergency Tracking: Migratory Receiving Stations and COVID-19 Pandemic (15-21 May, 2020)

Idiam Osorio,
Period Covered
May 15 2020
May 21 2020
  • Flow Monitoring Survey
  • Flow Monitoring


The Darién region has been characterized as one of the most  important points of transit for extra-regional migrants for the  past eleven years. However, the Darién region is characterized  as one of the most challenging for Panama's socio-economic  development; a situation that increases the complexity of  dealing with massive and irregular migration flows. Since 2009, significant extra-regional migration flows have been  identified, that is, migrants from other continents, such as Africa,  Asia and the Caribbean region, specifically Haitians and Cubans.

In 2016, the first migration crisis by extra-regionals occurred in the province of Darién, influenced by the closing of borders in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Faced with this situation, the governments of Panama and Costa Rica established an agreement known as 'Operation Controlled Flow', that would guarantee the orderly, regular and safe transit of these migrants through the territory.

The World Health Organization declared a state of pandemic for the COVID-19 virus on 11 March  2020, which is why global sanitary measures were established in order to mitigate the contagion. Central America, responded by shutting its borders or by modifying its border management policies,  as well as launching massive hygiene campaigns. The application of these measures implied changes in the mobility of migrants transiting through Panama. In addition, organizations such as SICA have drawn up regional work plans for the contingency of the pandemic.

Since 12 March 2020, Panama has been under a state of emergency, with closed borders, as a result of the measures imposed to contain the virus. Due to the closing of the Costa Rican borders on 16 March, Operation Controlled Flow has been severely affected. Currently, there are 2,525 migrants stranded in the national territory, distributed as follows: 1,984 in the province of Darién (1,684 in MRS La Peñita, 125 in Bajo Chiquito, and 176 in MRS Lajas Blancas), and 541 migrants in the province of Chiriquí at MRS Los Planes. Borders continue to be closed until 22 May according to provisions from the Government of Panama.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, different media outlets have been covering the news regarding the issue with migrants stranded at the Darién border; the most recent being on May 21, when migrants held demonstrations. Migrants asked for compliance with the agreements reached at the meeting held with government officials and other institutions, as well as regarding the border crossing with Costa Rica so that they could continue on with their journey.

As of 21 May, Panama has 10,116 confirmed cases and a total of 291 deaths from COVID-19. In terms of border provinces, Darién reports a total of 204 cases, and Chiriquí a total of 293 positive. In this context, the National Migration Service (NMS) has decided to extend the validity of residence permits until 31 May, and ordered the suspension of procedural terms, including procedures for residence permits (pending and professional), non-resident visas, judicial residence cards, migration regulation cards and tourist residence card.

Since the beginning of community transmission of COVID-19 in Darién at MRS La Peñita, no serious cases have been reported; patients with moderate disease due to the virus have been managed under a stay-at-hotel/hospital protocol in Panama City. At the time of writing this report, 25 positive COVID-19 cases have been reported: 7 moderate cases, 52 recovered cases, and 102 remain at MRS Lajas Blancas because of possible contacts. So far, 9 swab tests have been performed at the MRS.

At MRS Los Planes de Gualaca in Chiriquí, the health situation has not changed much; the newborn is still hospitalized since birth was premature (7 months). Regarding the cases of leishmaniasis, the child is still under observation and medical treatment at the migration station, and under the care of the parents. On 20 May, a young woman was transferred due to a hypertension crisis that led to a momentary loss of vision and is currently hospitalized. So far, zero cases of COVID-19 have been reported at MRS Los Planes.