UNHCR concerned about hundreds displaced by cross-border attack in Panama
PANAMA CITY, Jan 24 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has voiced concern over a recent attack by Colombian paramilitaries on villages in neighbouring Panama that has driven hundreds of indigenous people from their homes. The attack reportedly left four community leaders dead and three journalists kidnapped.
In a letter to Panama's government, UNHCR expressed concern and solidarity with those affected by last weekend's attack on Panamanian villages along the Paya and Pucuro rivers, a few kilometres from the Colombian border. The villages were home to the indigenous Kuna people.
UNHCR's implementing partners in the area said that in recent days, 472 indigenous people - including 324 children - had sought refuge in Boca de Cupe in the Central Darién region of Panama. Latest reports note that on Thursday afternoon, some families started returning to their villages with help from the police and military forces.
UNHCR's implementing partner, Vicariato del Darién, is currently in Boca de Cupe to co-ordinate emergency relief aid with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Panamanian Red Cross. Pending an assessment mission to the area in the next few days, UNHCR is, in the meantime, helping to improve the water system in Boca de Cupe in response to increased needs. The refugee agency has also made its stock of basic emergency assistance kits available for distribution to the affected population. If necessary, additional assistance kits will be brought in from its stocks elsewhere in the Darién region.
Panama hosts 1,515 registered refugees and persons under a special humanitarian protection status, many of them in the Darién region. The majority of them are Colombian citizens.