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 70,000 individuals have sought asylum in Costa Rica, with more expected to arrive.
UNHCR works with the Costa Rican Government to support persons in need of international protection.
UNHCR expanded its operation in the in 2018 by opening a field office to assist the Government’s response to the influx of Nicaraguan asylum-seekers entering through various points along the northern border. 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 and refugees. UNHCR advocates for safe access to territory, non-refoulement, no sanctions for irregular entry, effective registration, ensured access to a fair and efficient refugee status determination (RSD) procedure, timely issuance of documentation, and access to basic rights and services. It also encompasses strengthening 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. In the northern region, the CPB strategy launched in August 2019 with collaboration from the Government and partners. UNHCR has conducted introductory sessions in 27 communities in Upala and Los Chiles to promote community participation and empowerment, as well as to identify and appoint community representatives. In addition, communication with PoC is being strengthened to provide direct information, and community initiatives are supported to promote integration through sports and community activities. In San Jose, the office will begin implementing its CBP strategy to ensure information reaches asylum seekers and refugees.
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 460 calls per month.
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 technical support the Refugee Unit in San Jose and Upala, including with funding of human resources, infrastructure, and capacity building. The National Children’s Protection Institute and the Migration Authority also receive support to increase the adjudication capacity to better mitigate the risk of long waiting 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 admission to the territory and non-refoulement.
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, and UNHCR partner agencies, and some municipalities. Safe houses are also available for SGBV survivors, female asylum seeker, their children, and LGBTI+ persons. In addition, psychosocial services are provided for an increasing number of survivors of torture and violence.
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 ongoing technical assistance to national entities to ensure early identification of children-at-risk, including UASC, and appropriate responses. At December 2018, there were 266 minors, of which 52 were unaccompanied and 214 separated.
To advance on the eradication of the risk 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 implement at a national level. These activities are coupled with technical support to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the body responsible for the status determination of stateless individuals, and the Government, on the evaluation process ‘towards zero statelessness’.
UNCHR works with the Emergency Committee in Upala and participates in the Interinstitutional Coordination Committee in La Cruz and Los Chiles canons. UNHCR participated in the first line response of a flash flood emergency in July and has since committed to providing space in a warehouse for emergency supplies (CRI, drinkable water, and food supplies). Three community centers are also under renovation 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.
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, 1,961 households received a cash grant – 1,277 in San Jose and 684 in Upala and Los Chiles cantons. For three months, families will 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.