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Cablegate: Panama Refugee News--Unhcr Permanent Office,

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PANAMA 000813

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE


STATE PASS FOR PRM/ENA/BLAKEMAN/IRIS
WHA/CEN/BRIGHAM
BOGOTA PASS FOR RAY LYNCH


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PHUM PGOV CO PM LABOR HUMAN RIGHTSPOLMIL
SUBJECT: PANAMA REFUGEE NEWS--UNHCR PERMANENT OFFICE,
REFUGEE CENSUS, STATUS COMMISSION, PROPOSED CENTRALIZATION

REF: 03 PANAMA 3271


------
SUMMARY
-------
1) (SBU) On April 1, 2004, officials from the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the
Government of Panama (GOP) agreed to the establishment of a
permanent UNHCR office in Panama, capping many months of
negotiation. The GOP, UNHCR, and the Government of Colombia
(GOC) will conduct a joint census of the remaining Colombian
refugees beginning April 7, 2004. The GOP is considering
centralizing the remaining refugees in three Darien province
towns through a voluntary process. The GOP's refugee status
commission will meet May 27, 2004, but UNHCR wants the GOP to
take a more flexible approach for granting refugees internal
freedom of movement. Infrastructure and sustainable
development projects under discussion will seek funding
through the Department's Ambassador's fund and/or via UNHCR.
End Summary.


-------------------------------------------
A PERMANENT HOME FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE
--------------------------------------------
2. (SBU) On April 1, 2004 the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Americas Director Hope
Hanlon and UNHCR Panama director Gonzalo Vargas Llosa along
with Minister of Foreign Relations Harmodio Arias signed an
agreement establishing a permanent UNHCR Panama office. The
UNHCR in Panama is now a fully independent and accredited UN
agency. The Geneva-based Hanlon noted during an April 1
meeting with POL Counselor that the agreement placed no
restrictions on the UNHCR or its operations.


-----------------------------------
REFUGEE CENSUS, PROPOSED RELOCATION
-----------------------------------
3. (SBU) The GOP, the Government of Colombia (GOC) and
UNHCR will conduct a joint census of the Colombian refugee
population April 7, 2004. In addition, the GOP is proposing
to relocate Colombian refugees to three Darien towns (Jaque,
Puerto Obaldia, and El Real) to provide better security and
social services. The GOC and UNHCR are adamant that
relocations are voluntary. GOP refugee agency (ONPAR)
director Harmodio Jimenez confirms all relocations must be
voluntary. (NOTE: In all likelihood, very few refugees will
want to be relocated. End Note.) It is unlikely there will
be further repatriations of refugees to Colombia as neither
government has expressed a desire to conduct one.


-----------------
PROPOSED PROJECTS
-----------------
4. (SBU) Infrastructure and sustainable development
projects will be proposed in the near future. Department's
regional refugee coordinator is working with Embassy-Panama,
UNHCR, and the GOP developing to develop project proposals to
assist Darien communities with Colombian refugee populations.
Some infrastructure projects (such as additions to a health
center) could receive funding through the Department's
Ambassador's fund. Sustainable development projects (such as
job creation programs) would be supported via UNHCR special
funding requests. Links to existing USAID programs will be
considered to approve project effectiveness.


-----------------------------------
FREE MOVEMENT OF REFUGEES IN PANAMA
-----------------------------------
5. (SBU) After an inconclusive March 2004 meeting of the
GOP's refugees status commission, another commission hearing
is scheduled for May 27, 2004. Panama's Migration Department
remains a UNHCR concern. UNHCR believes some Migration
officials are resisting fair and equitable refugee status
decisions. As previously reported, (Ref A), some Migration
officials still resist UNHCR's presence and believe there are
significant security issues linked to the Colombian refugees.
UNHCR believes it is unlikely that the refugee status
commission will function effectively during the current
administration due to Migration's "roadblocks." UNHCR
believes the $600 (US) migrant processing fees, paid by all
migrants, is limiting refugee case applications. The GOP
insists the fee is a statutory requirement. (NOTE: A person
with formal refugee status has the freedom to live and work
anywhere in Panama. Persons without formal refugee status
must get police permission for any travel, even to the next
town. End Note.)


-------
COMMENT
-------
6. (SBU) Embassy Panama is pleased to report a dramatic
turnaround in UNHCR and GOP relations and refugee affairs
generally. During the past six months the GOP has conducted
repatriations that comply with international norms, hired an
ONPAR director truly interested in refugee issues, and built
a close working relationship with UNHCR. Department support
for crucial infrastructure and sustainable development
projects will demonstrate USG's continued interest in refugee
assistance and the Darien province.


MCMULLEN

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