The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted Friday to a 62-page Human Rights Watch (HRW) report: This Hell Was My OnlyOption': Abuses Against Migrants and Asylum Seekers Pushed to Cross the Darién Gap."A Ministry statement said that, as part of its commitment to the health, safety, and humanitarian treatment of migrants; Panama has worked and continues to work constantly in its inter-institutional capacities and together with regional and global partners to prioritize a humanitarian approach to the human drama experienced in the province of Darién.
“It is estimated that no less than 15% of the population in the national territory is a migrant population. For this reason, our country cannot agree to international pressures that force us to absorb massive irregular migrants in a disorderly manner and to the detriment of nationals and resident foreigners. For a long time, we have articulated our limited resources to provide irregular migrants with the humanitarian care they need, including access to food, water, medical assistance, and justice, among others”
According to the Ministry 248,284 irregular arrivals were received in 2022, the highest number of irregular migrants in a single year since 2009, all through Darién. In 2023, this figure has increased to more than 465,000 so far this year and continues to increase every day.
“Our country has raised its voice in all international spheres, expressing the need for shared responsibility and immediate action, not only from the countries involved but also from international organizations and non-governmental organizations. We have made internationally visible the need to receive support to combat transnational and common organized crime that exploits the humanity of these irregular migrants and that requires coordination with other States for it to be effective. This commitment has been demonstrated with facts, through operational results and judicial convictions, especially in the region bordering Colombia, where we see an increase of 67% in the last 3 years,” they highlighted.
The Ministry regretted that the Human Rights Watch report "does not reflect the humanitarian efforts of the Government of Panama and that it does not even encourage non-governmental organizations and other actors to comply with Panamanian standards to achieve adequate attention of the migrant population, especially when reference is made to crimes related to sexual violence and the obligation that Panamanian laws establish to inform the competent authorities immediately of facts that could be considered crimes. "
The entity also regretted that, although the report refers to organized crime networks that operate outside the limits of the Republic of Panama and that articulate the informal and dangerous routes of irregular migration, it goes out of its way to make accusations against Panama.
"In the same document, it is stated that these networks obtain millions of dollars annually illicitly that serve as financing for their own illicit companies. On the contrary, the report and the statements made in the subsequent press conference highlight the sophisticated organization that they carry out. Panama developed the 'Operation Light of Hope' initiative with the specific objective of protecting minors who are at the greatest risk of trafficking for sexual exploitation. We consider that this and other elements that were timely provided to HRW deserve attention objective when making accusations against a country that carries out humanitarian work like that carried out by Panama, compared to what very few countries do at the regional level," said the Ministry.
They added that claiming that Panama should give asylum to irregular migrants is giving validation to a route that, for geographical reasons, makes such care impossible and that Panama has insisted that “Darién is not a route, it is a jungle” and has even turned it into an international communication campaign, extending the invitation to all countries of origin, transit, and destination to join, as well as international organizations.
"We also extend the invitation to HRW. It is interesting to see that until now an organization like HRW postulates that Darién is a dense jungle, but also contradicts it in a report by indicating that Panama should recognize that area as a regular route. The report also does not "account that many of the migrants have traveled from third countries, an issue that contradicts the recommendation of migratory reception or through international protection mechanisms in other countries in the region."
They explained that as a cooperating country, and at the same time a member of the international community, they are interested in making their concrete and proactive actions known.
"The accountability of all the actors involved is essential for organizations like HRW to carry out their work in a more efficient way, and thus everyone can contribute to alleviating the pain, which today more than ever has a human face. Panama will continue adapting strategies to support the safety of migrants undertaking the dangerous journey through Darién National Park. We will continue to prioritize an approach focused on coordination, communication, and crime prevention with partners both regionally and internationally to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of a vulnerable population of migrants, and we appreciate the support of both governments and multilateral organizations in this effort of great priority for our country .”