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Costa Rica: Population Movement - DREF Operation N° MDRCR020 - Operation Update no. 1

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This operation update includes a 3-month extension to continue to respond to the current migratory flows and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants that are expected to cross the Panamanian border with Costa Rica in the upcoming weeks.

The rationale behind the extension is to respond to the migrants’ needs in the upcoming months. Just in October, 29,604 migrants crossed the Darien, which is the highest monthly number of migrants crossing the border that has been reported over the last years. Based on the reported number of migrants crossing Darien and the experience from previous years, it is expected that the migrant flows will continue or even increase during the months of December through February 2022.

Currently, the migrants are crossing the border between Panama and Costa Rica from different entry points, CRRC has proposed to respond to the pressing needs of migrants in different geographical locations. The proposed actions will be focused on the border with Nicaragua, specifically in Las Tablillas, Los Chiles, Alajuela province and Peñas Blancas, La Cruz, Guanacaste province. Both entry points are in the northern border with Nicaragua. In addition, there will be complementary actions in Corredores, Punta Arenas province on the southern border with Panama where CRRC will be supported by UNICEF to respond to the migration crisis.

In addition, this timeframe extension includes an increase in the geographical areas to respond to migrants’ pressing needs. The official figures have not changed over the last weeks, however, informal data shared by the CRRC shows that the number of migrants crossing the border daily is increasing. There are no changes on the initial support included in the original EPoA; the same programmatic activities will be implemented during the duration of the operation.

As mentioned above, there are two new included municipalities in two of the provinces that were initially identified:
Las Tablillas, Los Chiles, Alajuela province and Peñas Blancas, La Cruz, Guanacaste province. Therefore, it was decided to request a timeframe extension for an additional 3 months, with a new end date of 28 February 2022 (and revised strategic approach), to allow the operation to hire two Field Project Assistants to be responsible for implementing the proposed actions and assistance to migrants through mobile posts at different identified points along the borders.

A. Situation analysis

Description of the disaster

Between June and October 2021, the population movement across the Darien Gap crossing increased considerably. According to information provided by National Migration Service from Panama, some 700 to 1,000 people are arriving in Panama every day. Once migrants arrive in one of the three Migration Reception Stations in Panama, migrants continue to experience harsh travel conditions and difficulties generating situations of extreme vulnerability.

Migrants continue to arrive in Darién, most of them heading to North America, facing all kinds of risks during their journey across the Darién jungle and along the migration route in Central America and Mexico. The main factors driving increased migration flows include the socio-political and economic conditions in the migrants' countries of origin, violence, unemployment, racism, unequal opportunities, increased poverty, and extreme weather conditions.

Since 2016, Costa Rica has become a frequent passage route for Haitians, Cubans, Venezuelans, and migrants from other countries. Numbers have been increasing in recent months as borders in the southern cone have begun to open after being closed due to the pandemic

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Costa Rican government has temporarily restricted the entry of foreign nationals classified as non-residents. This has also affected the humanitarian bridge that had allowed them to cross the country in “transit”. These actions are based on Executive Decree 42238-MGP-S of 17 March 2020 and 30 October 2020, which forbids the entry of foreign nationals planning to cross the country from north to south and vice versa except for humanitarian reasons, as authorized by the General Directorate of Migration and Foreigner Affairs (DGME) and after coordinating with the relevant authorities in Panama and Nicaragua.

Despite the restrictions and the DGME's routine border controls, a significant number of people manage to slip past and enter irregularly to continue their way.

In the last five years, the country has experienced a significant increase in people applying for refugee status, mainly from Nicaragua and Venezuela. In 2020, Costa Rica took in 121,983 persons of concern, of whom 9,613 are refugees, and 89,770 are persons applying for and waiting to be granted refugee status.

In addition, there is a major social crisis in neighbouring Nicaragua that has been ongoing since May 2018. The political situation is expected to deteriorate further, given the upcoming presidential elections in Nicaragua in November 2021.

Costa Rica has been experiencing various migration flows from Nicaragua and other Central American countries since the 1980s due to the armed conflicts in the region, and migration from Nicaragua increased in the 1990s because of the economic crisis. According to the census conducted by the National Institute of Census and Statistics, 385,899 immigrants were living in the country by 2011, accounting for 9 percent of the total population.
Most immigrants continue to be from Nicaragua (more than 287,000), accounting for 74.6 percent of resident immigrants. These numbers include all migrants irrespective of their migration status, which are counted by the census. Another segment (some 100,000 individuals) comprises the floating migrants who come to Costa Rica to work with border areas. Their stay is based on agricultural cycles and do not remain in the country permanently and are therefore not counted in censuses; however, they need to be considered when analysing migration flows from Nicaragua.