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09 June 2020 – Panama

A Queue at the Entrance of the Santiago Prison in Veraguas, (La Prensa,
A Queue at the Entrance of the Santiago Prison in Veraguas, (La Prensa, "Hacinamiento y Covid-19: un cóctel letal en las cárceles," 2 June 2020,

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the director of the Panamanian section of “Fe y Alegria” an NGO part of the Jesuit Migration Network, reported that a moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been established until 8 June 2020, but that no immigration detainees were released and that those who were in detention prior to the start of the pandemic have remained in detention. The NGO indicated that authorities are carrying out tests and are monitoring migrants in the Lajas Blancas, Las Peñitas (on the Colombian border) and Los Planes (on the Costa Rican border) “albergues” (shelters or camps). In other parts of the country, migrants are only tested if they show symptoms of the disease. In addition, Fe y Alegria said that interviews to apply for refugee status or to resolve immigration status claims have been suspended along with deportation flights. He said that only “humanitarian flights” are being carried out.

On 9 June, Reuters reported that Panama had confined some 200 migrants in a camp in the jungle to contain a new Covid-19 outbreak among a large group of migrants from Africa, Cuba, and Haiti, that have been left stranded by the Covid-19 crisis in the remote Darién region. During a visit of the Lajas Blancas camp on 5 June, Reuters said that some migrants were wearing masks, some were laying in tents or under tarps, enclosed by a wired fence. Medical workers were making rounds taking migrants’ temperature and blood pressure levels.

Of the four migrants Reuters was able to speak to, one said that the food was of poor quality and had sickened some people at the camp. Migrants are reportedly not allowed out of the camp without authorisation, although they are allowed to buy supplies and food in nearby stores. According to Panama’s Minister of Security, six migrants in the camp have contracted Covid-19. In addition, he mentioned that the Panamanian government will soon start building a new camp with 500 spaces in the Darién region.

Regarding the country’s penitentiaries, Health authorities reported a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases on 29 May. More than 333 prisoners tested positive in the Santiago prison in Vargas. This represents around two-thirds of the total facility’s population, which was initially intended to hold 150 people. On 2 June, the prison administration announced the first death of a prisoner due to Covid-19 in the Santiago prison. Also, the Nueva Joya prison has now recorded 228 cases of Covid-19, making it the second most infected prison in the country.