Costa Rica: Population Movement DREF Operation no. MDRCR014, update no. 2

Summary

In November 2015, more than 1,000 Cuban nationals were reported to be camped out at the Paso Canoas border crossing with Panama. In view of requirements for entering the country and the fact that these migrants did not meet them, a significant amount of people began to congregate in this border community, taking to living in the streets while they waited for a solution for their immigration status. The Costa Rican government issued permits allowing migrants to enter the country and continue on their way to the United States. Thousands of migrants benefited; however, despite these permits, migrants were unable to enter Nicaraguan territory as they failed to meet Nicaraguan immigration requirements. By March 2016, some 8,000 migrants were in Costa Rican territory. The solution for Cuban nationals came several months later (April to May 2016) after an air bridge between Costa Rica and El Salvador was established; nevertheless, the various needs identified at the onset of this situation and to date led to an immediate humanitarian intervention by the CRRC, which was later joined by other government institutions, churches and organized communities, among others. All of these organizations jointly supported the setting up of 37 collective centres, addressed food, water and sanitation needs, and promoted health; around 8,000 people were airlifted to Mexico.

As of May 2016, reports indicated the existence of 43 collective centres, 33 communities hosting migrants, 15 active municipal emergency committees, more than 500 volunteers and more than USD$5 million in operating and administrative maintenance executed by Costa Rica’s Emergency Commission. Panama also faced a rapid buildup of Cuban migrants in May 2016 when the Costa Rican government stopped issuing transit permits to migrants, which forced 4,000 migrants that had congregated in Paso Canoas to live in hotels, apartments and houses; this situation continued until late June 2016 when migrants were able to take flights out or find informal routes to travel across the remaining Central American countries.

After the departure of most of the Cuban nationals in March 2016, a group of Haitians and people from various countries in Asia and Africa were reported at the border in Paso Canoas and Peñas Blancas; most of those from outside the continent were from Burkina Faso, Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal and Somalia, among others. However, they were also lacking visas to enter the country, and they started congregating in surrounding streets as they were unable to continue because they were not authorized to enter the country and unable to turn back because Panamanian authorities would not allow them to return; those that managed to evade police started gathering near the Peñas Blancas border crossing with Nicaragua, where they were living in unsuitable conditions in terms of housing, drinking water, food and hygiene.

On 12 April 2016, migrants were transported back to the Paso Canoas border crossing with Panama by Security Ministry vehicles, which exacerbated the problem given the precarious conditions and the amount of people involved; this led to several institutions deciding to open a "humanitarian aid post" in order to assess basic food, health and hygiene conditions. This post was later handed to the Costa Rican Red Cross to manage and operate it.

At the end of July 2016, Colombian media outlets observed a rise in the migrants concentrated in Uraba Antioqueño and Choco, which are near Panama’s Darien province. Moreover, while only 35 Haitian migrants were registered by Colombian migration authorities in July 2015, the number of Haitian migr ants has increased significantly, thereby surpassing the total of Cuban migrants. The Panamanian government closed its borders in May 2016; however, it is still permitting the controlled entry and exit of migrants . By August 2016, thousands of migrants were en route to North America, many of them having started their journeys in Brazil and later travelling through Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.

Immigration authorities in all of the involved countries are doing everything within their power to meet the demand for immigration procedures, and emergency authorities are attempting to meet the humanitarian needs arising in each country's meeting points or points of passage. Panamanian authorities established a reception centre in Nicanor for the migrants (the migrants enter Panama from Las Blancas, Peñitas or Yaviza on the ColombianPanamanian border). From there, the migrants are transported by bus to Paso Canoas, Panama, which is near the border with Costa Rica.

The entry of migrants at the Colombian-Panamanian border has increased in October 2016; according to health authorities, an average of 300 to 500 migrants enters Panama per day on the Colombian-Panamanian border and only 100 leave the country per day from Panama’s border with Costa Rica, which means more migrants are entering Panama on a daily basis than leaving from it; this influx of migrants has swelled the number of migrants that are st aying in the temporary reception centre in Nicanor. Over the last nine weeks, 7,000 migrants have passed through Panama, and there are approximately 5,000 migrants in Nicanor that are waiting to travel to the border with Costa Rica; the migrants’ average stay in Nicanor is 4 to 6 weeks. In 2016, the centre in Nicanor received 17,000 migrants “formally”; nevertheless, the number of migrants that entered Panama in 2016 could be higher as the centre has not registered all of the migrants that have passed through Panama.

The surge in migrants in October 2016 to both Panama and Costa Rica and a corresponding increase in the sectorial needs detailed below have necessitated a six-month extension of the appeal; the appeal will now end on 22 May 2017. The IFRC is currently revising the appeal’s emergency plan of action, and it will determine whether the appeal’s budget and activities need to be adjusted in order to represent better the changing scenario.