Panama is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its additional 1967 protocol, as well as to the Brazil declaration. However, the Cartagena Refugee Definition is not part of the national legal framework. Furthermore, in 1998 Panama passed the Decree 23 which effectively provided refugees with the necessary framework to access basic services and protection, including the right to work. A new law was passed in January 2018 replacing the 23/1998 Decree. Panama is host to approximately 2,518 refugees as well as 13,616 asylum seekers, mostly from Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua and El Salvador in addition to 94,400 other people of concern. Although Panama has provided refugees with the legal framework to access employment, there are severe challenges with the labour legislation in addition to discriminatory social norms, preventing refugees from pursuing decent employment. Furthermore, Refugees have to renew their work permit every year, preventing them from receiving long term employment contracts. On the other hand, asylum-seekers are not allowed to work legally, thus forcing them into informal job markets that could lead to exploitation and abuse. As the vast majority of PoCs in Panama are located in urban settings, the UNHCR and partners provide PoCs with vocational training and financial support for entrepreneurial business development as well as job placement to assist in integration into Panama’s labour market.

Panama is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with an average annual growth rate increase of 5.6% over the past 5 years. Between 2015-17, poverty fell from 15.4% to 14.1% while extreme poverty feel from 6.7% to 6.6% in the same period, mostly prevalent in rural areas (World Bank). Panama has an inflation rate of 0.81% with its strongest industries comprising of the transportation industry, electricity industry, the water industry and the trade industry. Panama’s weakest industries are the agriculture industry with an 7.6% decrease in milk and salt production, as well as the fishing industry with an 11% decrease due to a shortage of shrimp exports. Additionally, overall work contract for nationals decreased by 4.1% (GoP). Furthermore, Panama has a 19.1% poverty rate with rural poverty levels concerningly higher at an average of 85.2% (GoP 2).

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