Introduction of country context
- This Costa Rica case study report is part of the global evaluation of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) livelihood strategy. The centralized evaluation was commissioned by the UNHCR Evaluation Service and independently conducted by Technical Assistance to NonGovernmental Organizations (TANGO) International. The overarching purpose of this evaluation is to gather strategic and timely evidence on the effectiveness of refugee livelihoods programming from 2014-2018. The evaluation will inform organizational strategy and practice within UNHCR and external to UNHCR with partners, aiming to improve the economic inclusion of refugees and other people of concern (PoC). See the full evaluation report for the overall findings and recommendations.
- Country context: In Central America, several countries are applying the Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework, which derives from the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), aiming to ease pressure on the host countries, enhance refugee selfreliance, expand access to third-country solutions, and support conditions in countries of origin for return with safety and dignity. In 2017, UNHCR Costa Rica coordinated a comprehensive consultation process, led at the presidential level, to move its response towards a whole-society/whole-State strategy. The outcome of this consultation was that it helped to guide government initiatives to support refugees, and it helped UNHCR to develop the integrated programme including ongoing communication and collaboration with government institutions.
- The combination of political stability and steady economic growth over the past few decades have resulted in Costa Rica having one of the lowest poverty rates in Latin America and the Caribbean. While previously heavily dependent on agriculture, Costa Rica’s economy has recently expanded to include the finance, pharmaceutical, and ecotourism sectors. Costa Rica’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita has had an average growth of 4.5 per cent from 2000 to 2013, compared to 3.8 per cent for the regional average during the same time period.
- Costa Rica has a favourable legal and policy framework for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers in the country. The government allows refugees and asylum seekers access to basic services equal to that of nationals including access to the national social security system and to public education, scholarships, and job placement services. Refugees and asylum seekers can also participate in national welfare programmes targeting vulnerable populations living in extreme poverty. Additionally, Costa Rica ratified the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol in 1978.
- There are no settlements or refugee camps in Costa Rica. Currently, the refugees and asylum seekers are dispersed in urban areas, mainly resettling in the provinces of San José, Heredia, and Alajuela (the Gran Área Metropolitana), with fewer refugees in Puntarenas, Guanacaste, Cartago, and Limon. UNHCR’s operation in Costa Rica centres on refugees coming from Colombia, the North of Central America (NCA), and Venezuela. Costa Rica hosted more than 12,000 PoC in the country in 2017, a 51 per cent increase from 2016 (7,953). Due to the recent political situation and civil unrest in Nicaragua, the influx of refugees seeking security and better conditions in Costa Rica has considerably increased through 2018. Current estimates for October 2018 include a total of 15,500 PoC from Nicaragua.
- Programme overview: In 2014, UNHCR and the International Labour Organization (ILO) conducted a joint market assessment in which the food and beverages and the commerce sectors were identified as having good potential for PoC inclusion into the labour market. This assessment was instrumental to guide the implementation of the Comprehensive Solutions Strategy (2014-2016) that included local integration, voluntary repatriation and resettlement in a holistic manner. The strategy is a solutions-oriented initiative that provides a practical methodology to find suitable solutions. The operation implemented the pilot Graduation Model and the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) scheme, “Vivir la Integración” (Living Integration), as the main livelihoods interventions until they merged in 2017. The initial Living Integration programme focused on working with private companies to hire refugees and complemented the Graduation Model that supported entrepreneurship activities of PoC. When the two programmes merged, the name “living integration” was kept as a mechanism to continue working with CSR programmes and to implement an integrated approach.
- UNHCR’s Costa Rica operation seeks to support all registered PoC either through protection or livelihood interventions. From 2014 to 2016, the Graduation Model and Living Integration programmes included 1,769 direct and indirect participants, which was 22 per cent of the PoC population in 2016. During this timeframe, 568 registered PoC received livelihoods training: 418 in food handling, 85 in language skills, and 22 in elder care. Of those trainees, 425, or 75 per cent, were hired. In the Graduation Model, 397 PoC participated in basic training and 248 benefited from entrepreneurship training, and ultimately, 194 were able to establish businesses. In 2017, 1,109 PoC received cash grants and 1,384 legal assistance. For 2018, 400 PoC were planned to register in job placement services and 657 to receive guidance on labour market opportunities. These planned figures have since increased. The UNHCR livelihood unit in Costa Rica estimates for fiscal year (FY)2018 that 1600 refugee and asylum seekers will be assessed, 990 will register into job placement services, 1200 will participate in the job matching fairs with the "Get Employed Living the Integration" strategy led by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MoL). Fifty-five new companies have joined the Living Integration scheme.
- The overall budget of UNHCR in Costa Rica has increased 68 per cent from US$ 2,885,870 in 2014 to US$ 9,150,305 in 2018, with a major proportion as funding to partners (42 per cent in 2014 and 37 percent in 2018). The budget designated for the livelihoods programme is shown in Table 1. The livelihoods budget increased from US$ 202,804 in 2014 to US$ 653,263 in 2017, then dropping to US$ 413,980 in 2018.
- Since 2017 UNHCR Costa Rica has implemented a multipartner approach, where Fundacion Mujer, as part of Vivir la Integracion, has been providing employment services and is producing employment reports aimed at identifying the sectors of the national economy geared for potential employment. Fundacion Mujer’s livelihoods interventions include core training courses in financial literacy, legal empowerment, soft skills for employment, and certified skills training. Fundacion Mujer also works with the MoL on job matching schemes, technical assistance, and providing seed capital to refugee entrepreneurs. FUNDEPOS and Fundacion Omar Dengo also implement technical trainings. UNHCR has various operating partners: The Chamber of Commerce, Chamber of Industry, Diversity Chamber of Commerce, and Business Association for Development, to advocate and coordinate efforts with the private sector. Finally, UNHCR works in close coordination with the National Social Welfare Institute (IMAS) and the MoL to advocate and build their capacity to support PoC.
- Costa Rica, as a middle income country, does not receive financial support from multilateral and bilateral donors. This has created a major test for the country to continue to address their development challenges such as poverty reduction and income distribution, which directly affects the government´s capacity to respond to the needs of PoC.