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Panama: living in safety, but denied his rights
20 June 2010

According to the UN refugee agency, there is a huge difference between the number of refugees in Panama, 17,422, and the number recognised by the authorities, 1,893.
Voices on World Refugee Day


Puerto Piña, Panama.

"I used to live in Juradó, Colombia. We fled there due to insecurity caused by subversive, guerilla, and paramilitary groups. There were some many abuses of authority. They obliged people to supply them with services. If they refused, there were consequences. If you agreed to supply one group with services, you would have problems with another. They would kill you. It was a real problem to be there. We were caught in the middle. On 12 December 1999, Juradó fell to the guerillas and they took all the food and the petrol. Subsequently, they forced us, the whole population, to leave the area. At that moment we decided to flee to nearby Panama.

There was no petrol anywhere in the village. We had to wait for someone to come and give us fuel. It wasn't easy. The sea was very rough. I came here with my wife, children and three other people who had been threatened by paramilitaries. They begged me not to leave them. They said that during the night the paramilitaries would have come to Juradó and they were next on the list to be assassinated. They also told me that I was on the list to be killed by the guerillas…

When we arrived in December 1999, we were given ID cards that do not allow us to move freely in Panama. We This town is our prison. We're sick of this temporary humanitarian protection2. They told us that in 10 years we would have received citizenship or permanent residency. When someone's son gets sick, we cannot even work, because here there is an American company which will not employ us without an identity card. We cannot go back home because we have lost everything we had in Colombia. Nothing of what we left remains….We thought of rebuilding our lives here".

1. Not his real name

2. Temporary humanitarian protection.  Decree number 28 revised Panamanian refugee law and established the National Office for Assistance to Refugees (ONPAR) and the category of temporary humanitarian protection. The law specifies that persons with temporary humanitarian protection are not entitled to the same legal or social rights granted to refugees recognised under the 1951 UN Convention.