Panama’s Response to HRW Report
The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores of Panama published a response to HRW’s report “This Hell Was My Only Option,” Abuses Against Migrants and Asylum Seekers Pushed to Cross the Darién Gap.”
Below, is the response by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Panama.
(Translated, posts added)
Panama City, November 10, 2023. In a steadfast commitment to the health, safety, and humane treatment of migrants, Panama has been diligently working on enhancing its inter-agency capabilities. Collaborating with regional and global partners, the country is dedicated to prioritizing a humanitarian approach to address the human crisis unfolding in the Darien province.
With a population of 4 million, Panama has historically exemplified integration in the realm of orderly migration. Approximately 15% of the national population consists of migrants. Thus, the nation cannot succumb to international pressures urging the uncontrolled absorption of irregular migrants, to the detriment of both nationals and legal residents.
Panama serves as a key transit country on the route of irregular migration. Despite finite resources, the country has long demonstrated its humanitarian spirit, allocating limited means to provide irregular migrants with essential care, including access to food, water, medical assistance, and justice. The undeniable efforts of the Panamanian government persist despite the exponential and unplanned growth of irregular migrants traversing the territory.
In 2022, Panama witnessed 248,284 irregular arrivals, the highest in a single year since 2009, all passing through the Darien province. In 2023, this figure has surged to over 465,000 within the year, with a regrettable daily increase.
Panama has vocalized its concerns internationally, emphasizing the need for shared responsibility and immediate action from not only involved countries but also international organizations and non-governmental entities mandated to provide crisis assistance.
The country has also highlighted the necessity of support in combating transnational organized crime and common criminal activities exploiting the vulnerability of irregular migrants.
Panama’s commitment to this cause is evident through operational results and judicial convictions, particularly in the border region with Colombia, where a 67% increase has been observed over the past 3 years.
Regrettably, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report fails to acknowledge the humanitarian efforts of the Republic of Panama.
It does not urge non-governmental organizations and other actors to adhere to Panamanian standards for adequate care of the migrant population, especially in cases related to sexual violence.
Furthermore, the report unfairly criticizes Panama while acknowledging that these criminal networks illegitimately generate millions of dollars annually to finance their illicit enterprises.
Despite the challenges, Panama has launched Operation “Luz Esperanza” to protect unaccompanied minors at high risk of exploitation.
It is essential to recognize such initiatives when making accusations against a country engaged in humanitarian efforts, particularly when compared to the limited actions undertaken by very few regional counterparts.
As stated in the report, the Darien Gap is a swampy jungle forming a natural border between Colombia and Panama. Panama reiterates that the Darien National Park, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981, is not and will never be a safe passage for irregular migrants.
The park’s obligations include safeguarding flora and fauna, protecting water resources, and preserving the cultural and historical value of indigenous populations within and around the park.
Panama emphasizes that Darien is not a route for regular, safe, and orderly migration. The call for Panama to provide asylum to irregular migrants validates a geographically impossible route, as repeatedly emphasized by the country.
Darien has been characterized as a jungle, not a route, and Panama has actively communicated this internationally, inviting all countries, as well as international organizations and HRW, to join the effort.
The report overlooks the fact that many migrants have traveled from third countries, contradicting the recommendation for host countries or international protection mechanisms in the region.
As a cooperating country and a member of the international community, Panama seeks recognition for its concrete and proactive actions. Accountability from all involved parties is crucial for organizations like HRW to carry out their work efficiently and contribute to alleviating the increasingly human face of pain.
Panama has, is, and will continue adapting strategies to support the safety of migrants undertaking the perilous journey through the Darien National Park. The nation remains committed to a coordinated, communicative, and crime-prevention-focused approach, appreciating the support of both governments and multilateral organizations in this critical effort.”
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