Costa Rica is a host country to asylum-seekers primarily from Latin America and the Caribbean, and is a transit point for others. Over the past five years, the country has experienced an upward trend in the number of asylum applications received as a result of political unrest and violence in the region.
Since the onset of the sociopolitical crisis in Nicaragua in April 2018, over 74,500 individuals have sought asylum in Costa Rica. UNHCR works with the Costa Rican Government to support persons in need of international protection. UNHCR expanded its operations in 2018 by opening a field office in the north to assist the Government’s response to the influx of Nicaraguan asylum-seekers in the region. In 2020, the operation added a San Jose Field Unit to respond to the needs of PoC in the metro area. At a policy level, the framework for the multi-sectoral refugee response is outlined in the Comprehensive Refugee Response Plan (MINARE).
UNHCR Costa Rica works to reduce vulnerabilities and enhance protection through a variety of interventions and activities for asylum-seekers, refugees, and stateless persons. UNHCR advocates for safe access to territory, nonrefoulement, no sanctions for irregular entry, effective registration, access to a fair and efficient refugee status determination (RSD) procedure, timely issuance of documentation, and access to basic rights and services. Activities implemented also help strengthen the response to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), child protection, and comprehensive care for persons with specific protection needs.
Community-Based Protection (CBP):
This strategy aims to reduce protection risks and vulnerabilities while fostering peaceful co-existence and integration. Communication strategies with PoC help provide timely information and learn about needs of PoC and host members, and support to community initiatives promote integration through sports and community activities. In the northern region, the CPB strategy launched in August 2019 with collaboration from the Government and partners. UNHCR conducted introductory sessions in 27 communities in Upala and Los Chiles to promote community participation and empowerment, and identified 21 community representatives to help channel PoC needs. In San Jose, UNHCR began directly implementing CBP in January 2020, building on work started with and through partners in 2019. This complements information campaigns occurring throughout the year to raise awareness about the asylum process, refugee rights, and services provided. An information center is available since 2018 to receive inquiries from persons of concern, with an average of 811 attentions per month (calls, emails, and walk-ins).
Asylum System Strengthening:
In line with the MINARE framework, UNHCR supports the Migration Authority in system strengthening to effectively and efficiently respond to asylum cases. To address the influx of asylum-seekers in Costa Rica, UNHCR provides support to the Refugee Unit in San Jose and Upala, including with funding of human resources, infrastructure, and capacity building. UNHCR also provides support to the Commission on Restricted Visas and Refugees (CVRR) and the Administrative Migration Tribunal (TAM) to increase the adjudication capacity and accelerate processing times.
Legal advice and assistance:
UNHCR provides legal information and assistance to prospective asylum-seekers on issues related to the asylum process, as well as access to other rights, including health, education, and work.
UNHCR has led the Multi-Functional Team on SGBV prevention and response, which is fully operational, with the participation of the National Children’s Protection Institute, the National Women’s Institute, the Migration Authority, UNHCR partner agencies, and some municipalities. UNHCR partners also provide safe houses for SGBV survivors, at-risk female asylum-seekers and their children, and LGBTI+ persons. In addition, psychosocial services are provided for an increasing number of survivors of torture and trauma.
To further expand its child protection response and assist Nicaraguan asylum-seeker and refugee children, particularly those who are unaccompanied or separated (UASC), UNHCR provides technical assistance to national entities to ensure early identification of children-at-risk, and implementation of appropriate responses.
To advance towards the eradication of statelessness, UNHCR works with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal/Civil Registry. As part of a MoU signed with the Tribunal, the Chriticos Project was launched in 2014. It is an initiative for cross-collaboration between Costa Rica and Panama to address issues of low birth registry of the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous people. In 2018, the Civil Registry adopted the project to be implemented nationally. These activities are coupled with technical support to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the body responsible for the statelessness determination procedure, and other authorities on the evaluation process ‘towards zero statelessness’. ]
Given the northern region’s particular vulnerabilities to natural disasters, UNCHR works with the Emergency Committee in Upala and participates in the Interinstitutional Coordination Committee in La Cruz and Los Chiles. UNHCR participated in the first line response to a flash flood emergency in July 2019 and has since committed to warehouse emergency supplies (CRI, drinkable water, and food).UNHCR is also renovating three community centers to serve as emergency shelters in case of a man-made or natural disaster.
UNHCR livelihoods initiatives increase individuals’ self-reliance and promote economic inclusion by removing barriers to income generating activities, through vocational or technical capacity building and by increasing PoC access to the labour markets.
The Living Integration Program, through initiatives such as the Living Integration Seal and different employment and entrepreneurship actions, developed jointly with the Costa Rican Government and partner agencies, seeks to assist asylum seekers and refugees in their local integration. Nearly 2,000 refugees have benefitted from this initiative since 2014.
Multipurpose Cash-Based Intervention
UNHCR implements a multipurpose cash-based intervention (CBI) to provide immediate assistance to the most vulnerable asylum-seekers. These non-conditional, unrestricted cash grants provide a timely response, allowing prioritized individuals and families to address their most critical needs and support integration into their host communities. Between June and August, socioeconomic evaluations were conducted throughout San Jose’s metropolitan region as well as in the northern cantons of Upala and Los Chiles. Through this exercise, 2,238 households received a cash grant – 1,557 in San Jose and 681 in Upala and Los Chiles cantons. For three months, families receive USD 450 in San Jose and USD 200 in the northern region. The difference in amount is to adjust for cost of living. In addition to the grant, families received financial training and obtained access to legal advice and other services from implementing partners.