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.