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Panama: agreement signed for permanent UNHCR presence

Briefing notes

Panama: agreement signed for permanent UNHCR presence

2 April 2004

UNHCR signed an agreement with the Government of Panama yesterday to pave the way for establishment of a permanent presence in the country. The agreement was signed during a visit to Panama City by the head of UNHCR's Americas Bureau, Hope Hanlan. 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 in the country.

There are some 1,970 refugees, asylum seekers and persons under temporary humanitarian protection in Panama. The vast majority are Colombians living in the regions of Darién and Kuna Yala, along the border with Colombia.

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 (ONPAR), as well as through some non-governmental organisations.

The programmes are in urban and rural areas and focus on legal and humanitarian assistance, health and education. In Darién and Kuna Yala provinces, UNHCR is carrying out Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) to promote self-sufficiency and integration of refugees with the local population. The projects include water supply, garbage treatment and small agricultural, fishing and trade projects. Other community projects include the construction of a health centre and a river boat ambulance.