Costa Rica + 4 more

Costa Rica: Population Movement - DREF Operation N° MDRCR020 - Final Report


A. Situation analysis

Description of the disaster

In 2021, the number of migrants crossing the Darien Gap increased, which has alarmed institutions and organizations that provide humanitarian assistance in the field. According to records from Panama's National Migration Service (SNM), 45,150 migrants (33,077 adults and 12,973 children) have arrived in Panama from Colombia between January and July 2021 after crossing the Darien jungle. This is the highest number seen in the last six years (30,065 in 2016), also exceeding the number of migrants recorded in 2019 by almost 42 per cent (22,102).

Migrants continue to arrive in Darién, most of them heading to North America, facing all kinds of risks during their journeys across the Darién jungle and along the migration route in Central America and Mexico. Some main factors driving increased migration flow 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. Their 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 Foreign Affairs (DGME) and after coordinating with the relevant authorities in Panama and Nicaragua. Per the bilateral agreement with Panama, the General Migration, and Immigration Directorate grants entry to 100 to 150 people per day but Migrant Care Centres have yet to be opened. This has made migrants' passage through Costa Rica challenging to detect and, therefore, difficult to provide them with assistance since those who enter legally hold a 25-day Humanitarian Visa, and those entering illegally want to do so undetected.

Despite the restrictions in force and the DGME's routine border controls, many 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 the number of 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.

It should be noted that Costa Rica has been experiencing various migration flows from Central American countries since the 1980s due to the social and economic situation in the region. Most immigrants continue to be from Nicaragua (more than 287,000), accounting for 74.6 per cent of the total number 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 in border areas. Their stay is based on agricultural cycles. They 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.