With hundreds of Colombians fleeing their country’s civil conflict, the United Nations refugee agency announced today that it would establish a permanent presence in neighbouring Panama to improve its assistance.
“Although we have been working for several years with Panamanian authorities and civil society from our offices in other countries, having a foothold in Panama will help to reinforce local partnerships and support efforts to protect and assist refugees and other persons in need of international protection,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.
The head of UNHCR's Americas Bureau, Hope Hanlan, signed an agreement yesterday with the Panamanian Government in Panama City yesterday to pave the way for establishing the permanent presence.
There are some 1,970 refugees, asylum seekers and persons under temporary humanitarian protection in Panama, the vast majority of them Colombians living in the border regions of Darién and Kuna Yala.
UNHCR is currently providing technical and financial support to relevant state institutions and implementing projects through its counterpart, the Panamanian Office for Assistance to Refugees and other partners.
The programmes focus on legal and humanitarian assistance, health and education. In Darien and Kuna Yala, the agency is carrying out quick impact projects to promote self-sufficiency and integration of refugees with the local population. These include water supply, garbage treatment and small agricultural, fishing and trade projects, as well as the construction of a health centre and a river boat ambulance.