Regarding COVID-19, as of October 31, a total of 472,534 cumulative cases and 7,054 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in Panama. In addition, since the start of the vaccination process last January, 5,821,464 doses of vaccine have been administered, which means that 77.4% of the population benefits from a complete vaccination program. A shipment of 1.5 million doses of pediatric COVID-19 vaccines is expected to arrive in Panama in the first quarter of 2022. The Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS) launched a vaccination campaign against COVID-19 from October 8 to 28 which included the entire population residing in the country, regardless of migration status and roots. This means that for this period, the certificate issued by an R4V partner to asylum seekers waiting for the provisional card was not required, but after October 28, it will be required again. This R4V partner will continue to provide asylum seekers awaiting their provisional card with a certificate that will allow them to access COVID-19 vaccinations. Additionally, on October 11, the President of the Republic of Costa Rica and the Minister of Health signed a decree that makes the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory in the public sector and empowers private sector employers to establish possible penalties. The decree establishes that civil servants referenced by the Vaccination Commission must be vaccinated, with the exception of civil servants who, due to a duly declared medical contraindication, cannot receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This decree entered into force on October 15.
On issues impacting the subregion, during her mission to Panama, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civil Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya held a meeting with President Laurentino Cortizo of Panama, during which they addressed issues to establish a common response to regional migration challenges, including refugees and migrants on the move; fight against money laundering and drug trafficking; and to strengthen respect for democratic principles throughout the region.
Regarding the protection environment, on October 15, an R4V partner in Panama expressed concern about the decline in access to basic rights for refugees in Panama due to the health emergency linked to the pandemic. Around half of those surveyed have been unable to pay their rent in the past three months and 15% are at risk of eviction. Additionally, 37% of refugee children of school age did not have access to resources or tools to access virtual education. In response, partner R4V, in addition to providing humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs, enabled a psychosocial support service which remains in operation and delivered relief items such as blankets and mosquito nets to approximately 2,000 refugees, asylum seekers and members of the host community.
According to official information from government authorities, starting in October, the National Immigration Service in Panama extended the review period for fine waivers for humanitarian reasons, allowing refugees and migrants in the country to update their immigration status. In Mexico, there have been 13,406 encounters of Venezuelans with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. CBP reported a 24% increase from September in the number of encounters with Venezuelan nationals at its southwestern land border, with 10,814 encounters in September.1 Current recidivism rates are estimated to be around 25%. Recidivism rates fluctuated between 38% and 25% throughout the year. Data on these encounters demonstrates a continuing trend of increasing numbers of Venezuelans reaching the Mexico-US border by year’s end.
Partners in Mexico finalized the Joint Needs Assessment (JNA) report to better understand the needs of the Venezuelan population in Mexico. These focus groups were conducted in September and October in Querétaro, Monterrey, Puebla, Cancun and Playa del Carmen. 63 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from Venezuela participated. With regard to the needs of the Venezuelan population, the conclusions of the JNA conclude that the most urgent are access to public services and documentation, food aid, access to health services and economic integration. It was noted that the vast majority of the population who participated, mentioned wanting to stay in the city where they reside, in the short and medium term. Their main motivation was to wait for their naturalization process. This intention was expressed in interviews and focus groups despite the observed increasing trend of Venezuelans transiting through Mexico to reach the United States.