Regarding COVID-19, as of October 31, a total of 472,534 accumulated cases and 7,054 deaths due to COVID-19 were reported in Panama. In addition, since last January when the vaccination process began, 5,821,464 vaccine doses have been applied, meaning 77.4% of the population have a full immunization scheme. A shipment of 1.5 million doses of pediatric COVID-19 vaccines is expected to arrive in Panama in the 2022 Q1. The Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS) began a COVID-19 vaccination campaign from 8 October until 28 October that included all of the population residing in the country regardless of their migratory status and demonstration of roots. This means that for this period, the certificate issued by an R4V partner to asylum-seekers awaiting the provisional card was not required, but after 28 October, it will be required again. This R4V partner will continue providing asylumseekers awaiting their provisional card a certificate that will allow them access to COVID-19 vaccinations. Also, on 11 October, the President of the Republic of Costa Rica and the Minister of Health signed a decree that makes the vaccine against COVID-19 mandatory in the public sector and that empowers private sector employers to establish possible sanctions. The decree establishes that public servants referenced by the Vaccination Commission must be immunized, except for those officials who, due to duly declared medical contraindication, are unable to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This decree came into force on 15 October.
On issues impacting the subregion, during her mission to Panamá, the United States Undersecretary of State for Civil Security, Democracy and Human Rights, Uzra Zeya, held a meeting with President Laurentino Cortizo of Panama, in which they addressed issues to establish a joint response to regional migration challenges, including refugees and migrants on the move; to combat money laundering and drug trafficking; and to strengthen respect for democratic principles throughout the region.
Related to the protection enviroment, on 15 October, an R4V partner in Panamá expressed its concern regarding the decline in access to basic rights for refugees in Panama due to the health emergency related to the pandemic. Around half of the people surveyed have not been able to pay rent in the last three months and 15% are at risk of eviction. In addition, 37 percent of schoolage refugee children did not have access to resources or tools to access virtual education. In response, the R4V partner, in addition to providing humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs, had enabled a psychosocial support service that remains in force, and delivered relief items such as blankets and mosquito nets to approximately 2,000 refugees, asylum-seekers and members of the host community.
On official information coming from governmental authorities, as of October the National Immigration Service in Panama extended the period to review fine exonerations for humanitarian reasons, allowing refugees and migrants in the country to update their immigration status. In Mexico, there were 13,406 encounters of Venezuelans with the United States Customs and Border Protection. CBP reported a 24% increase over September in the number of encounters with Venezuelan nationals at its Southwest land border, with 10,814 encounters in September.1 Current recidivism rates are estimated to be at about 25%. Recidivism rates have fluctuated between 38% and 25% throughout the year. Data on these encounters demonstrates a continued trend of growing numbers of Venezuelans reaching the Mexico/US border as the year comes to an end.
Partners in Mexico finalized the Joint Needs Assessments (JNA) report to gain a better understanding of the needs of the Venezuelan population in Mexico. These focus groups were carried out in September and October in Querétaro, Monterrey, Puebla, Cancun and Playa del Carmen. 63 refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants from Venezuela participated. In terms of the needs of the Venezuelan population, findings of the JNAs conclude that the most urgent are access to public services and documentation, food assistance, access to health services and economic integration. It was noted that the vast majority of the population who took part, 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 growing trend observed of Venezuelans transiting through México to reach the United States.