New residency law will benefit long-term refugees in Panama, says UN agency

1 April 2008
Colombian indigenous children in jungle settlements in Panama [File Photo]

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has welcomed a new law in Panama that will allow many refugees, some of whom arrived in the country over 25 years ago, to apply for permanent residency.

The new law will give recognized refugees who have been in Panama for more than 10 years the right to apply for permanent residency. After five years of permanent residence, they will be able to apply for Panamanian nationality.

UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis said the agency welcomes this new development, “which offers long-term refugees an opportunity to settle fully in Panama.”

Most of the refugees in Panama fled conflicts in Nicaragua and El Salvador during the 1980s. Until now, they had been living under a temporary status, which made it difficult for them to buy a house, open a bank account or get stable employment.

Bill 298 on the regularization of long-standing refugees in Panama was passed by the National Assembly last week. It will come into effect six months after it is signed by the President, which is expected to happen in the coming weeks.

The new regulations will apply only to those refugees who were granted status 10 years or more before the law came into force. “UNHCR is advocating for other refugees to be provided with the long-term opportunity to find durable solutions in Panama,” Ms. Pagonis said.

In addition to those from Central America, Panama also hosts refugees from neighbouring Colombia. There is a total of nearly 1,000 refugees in Panama and another 900 people who live in the most remote and isolated regions of the country under a system known as Temporary Humanitarian Regime, according to UNHCR.


♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.