Panama Regional Office


UNHCR's Regional Office in Panama covers operations in Belize (since 2018), Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Operation: Opération: Panama Regional Office



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Key figures Panama

2017 year-end figures
5,970 individuals received material and psychosocial support
3,760 people of concern received legal support
1,320 households received multipurpose cash grants
1,220 partner, government and UNHCR staff were trained on SGBV prevention and response and/or child protection
370 resettlement departures were arranged
2018 planning figures
800 people of concern in the North of Central America will be provided with material and psychosocial support  
300 households in Panama will receive cash grants
40 Government personnel in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras will be trained in status determination 
15 people will be assisted to departure from Cuba
10 reception/transit centres in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras will be maintained or improved 

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Increase in
2017 375,326
2016 235,707
2015 214,190


[["Refugees",3541],["Asylum-seekers",7772],["IDPs",245500],["Returned refugees",8],["Stateless",2],["Others of concern",118503]]
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Panama Regional Office

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2017 {"categories":[2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018],"budget":[5.8548486,8.42523081,8.225381364,16.64769407,22.672193686,27.36797093],"expenditure":[4.03032947,4.45055113,4.39118839,9.23860236,12.70058696,null]} {"categories":[2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018],"p1":[5.69669732,8.10063207,8.225381364,16.64769407,22.672193686,27.36797093],"p2":[0.15815128,0.32459874,null,null,null,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[null,null,null,null,null,null]} {"categories":[2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018],"p1":[3.87217783,4.28218306,4.39118839,9.23860236,12.70058696,null],"p2":[0.15815164,0.16836807,null,null,null,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[null,null,null,null,null,null]}
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  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018

Operational context

Ongoing displacement in the North of Central America (NCA) has multiple causes, including violence and insecurity. NCA citizens have traditionally sought international protection in Canada and the United States of America. However, in the past two years, the number of asylum-seekers from the NCA in Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama has increased significantly.
The Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) for Central America and Mexico (known by its Spanish acronym MIRPS) was agreed in October 2017 during a high-level regional conference in Honduras, through the San Pedro Sula Declaration. The States participating in the MIRPS are Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Panama. The MIRPS triennial plans of action for each country, as well as for regional actors, put forward concrete initiatives to strengthen protection and solutions for asylum-seekers, IDPs and refugees in the North and Central America through:
  • the improvement of admission and reception conditions;
  • strengthening asylum systems;
  • creating opportunities for self-reliance and local integration of forcibly displaced persons; and
  • supporting the resilience of host communities and communities at risk.
The MIRPS process ensured consultation sessions at regional and national levels with multiple stakeholders (including people of concern). A total of 62 consultations meetings were held and more than 1,000 people were formally consulted. This resulted in the development of six national plans and 15 action plans with regional, national and international actors on the different pillars, and more than 180 new commitments. Furthermore, the MIRPS includes ten other States and entities which want to actively support the process, and who have identified specific areas that they will support through financial assistance and technical cooperation.

Population trends

The rising trend in asylum claims observed in the last few years continued unabated in 2017. More than 125,000 new asylum applications were made by NCA nationals in the region, 33 per cent higher than in 2016. The total number of NCA refugees and asylum-seekers almost reached 300,000 by the end of 2017.
With the exception of Honduras (estimation of 174,000 IDPs as per 2014 study), data on internal displacement due to violence in the NCA remains fragmented.
Approximately 141,000 NCA citizens were deported in 2017 (mainly from the United States and Mexico), including many with international protection needs.
As a country of transit, an increasing number of people have travelled through Guatemala towards north and south. Mexican authorities estimate that, in 2017, some 500,000 people entered Mexico from Guatemala. UNHCR has identified and assisted some 23,000 people in transit with international protection needs.

Key achievements

  • In line with the regional MIRPS process, commitments to further strengthen protection and solutions in the region were made. Through national consultations, the development of triennial operational plans for each participating country is ongoing.
  • The success of UNHCR’s capacity-building efforts are evidenced in the increasing recognition rates, which reached an average of 49 per cent in 2017, compared to 28 per cent in 2012.
  • Prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) was prioritized, with Guatemala being a pilot country for the regional SGBV safe spaces network. Protection mechanisms for victims of violence continued to be strengthened also in El Salvador and Honduras.
  • For high-risk cases, the Protection Transfer Arrangement (PTA) programme was consolidated and expanded to all three NCA countries and further complemented by a variety of measures including internal relocation.
  • The network of safe spaces for humanitarian assistance, that ensures a safer and more dignified transit for people of concern on the move, was expanded in Guatemala, assisting a total of 23,000 people in 2017.

Unmet needs

  • Humanitarian assistance through cash-based interventions had to be prioritized to the most vulnerable people of concern only. This has had a negative impact on UNHCR’s people of concern, as they were not able to meet their basic needs during their forced displacement and the refugee status determination (RSD) process.
  • Protection networks and safety nets could have been further enhanced if additional funding had been made available. Specific programmes targeting prevention of SGBV and people with specific protection needs (e.g. LGTBI) require further strengthening.
  • The lack of funding negatively impacted community-based interventions, limiting the work on infrastructure as well as protection by field missions to high-risk areas in all countries.
  • In terms of RSD, although UNHCR continued to support the strengthening of the asylum systems, additional funding was required to better support the Governments of Guatemala and Panama in particular.

Working environment

The number of people fleeing from the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) countries is increasing.  By the end of 2015, the number of refugees and asylum-seekers with pending cases from NTCA in North and Central America countries reached more than 108,000 people, representing more than a five-fold increase in three years. This tendency is expected to continue for 2017. 

In Honduras, a Government study supported by UNHCR and the Joint IDP Profiling Service surveyed 20 municipalities and reported at least 174,000 internally displaced people due to the high level of violence and criminality between 2004 and 2014. During 2016 similar tendencies of increased internal displacement were presented. The existing profiling exercise and figures on internal displacement will be updated in  2017. 

Key priorities

In 2017 the UNHCR operation will focus on strengthening the asylum space in the region, supporting the development of relevant existing frameworks and policies on asylum and internal displacement; UNHCR developed a Protection and Solutions Strategy (2016-2018) within the context of the 2014 Brazil declaration, with strategic objectives guiding the operation at regional level, addressing the protection needs of refugees and asylum-seekers; returnees with specific protection needs; and internally displaced people. 

In order to meet the most urgent needs of up to 570,000 people of concern, a Supplementary Appeal was presented in June 2016 as a follow-up to the Protection and Solutions Strategy launched in December 2015. The additional resources received had a crucial impact in the areas of child protection, community-based protection, protection networks and border monitoring, strengthening of reception centres, protection responses for cases at heightened risks, as well as the reinforcement of national human rights entities (ombudsperson offices) in the three Northern Triangle of Central American countries. Enhancement of local integration in refugee receiving countries remains a critical area of the 2017 financial requirements; in particular to strengthen in particular to strengthen livelihoods and urban refugee programming, as well as for the establishment of humanitarian alternative pathways.