SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Costa Rica is known largely for its beaches, volcanoes and wildlife. However, away from the bustling tourism industry, new groups of people are coming to Costa Rica, and they aren’t there for the surf. Recently, the country has become a haven for tens of thousands of refugees.
Costa Rica’s welcoming reputation makes the country a popular destination for migrants. Human rights are a priority in Costa Rica, and the country sets an example for how to act when facing a refugee influx. Furthermore, traveling to Costa Rica is far less dangerous and costly than traveling to the U.S.
Here are 10 facts about refugees in Costa Rica:
1. Nearly 9 percent of Costa Rica’s 4.8 million people are immigrants.
2. Refugees in Costa Rica come from Haiti, Cuba, Colombia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and elsewhere. While many are from South America and the Caribbean, a significant number are African and Southeast Asian.
3. Over 100 refugees make it past the southern border into Costa Rica each day, and more than 6,500 refugees have entered Costa Rica at its southern border in the past five months.
4. Haitians make up 85 percent of the latest refugees to enter the country. These refugees settled in Brazil after the 2010 Haitian earthquake and have recently become unemployed due to a recession that began after the close of the Rio Olympics.
5. Refugees in Costa Rica are hardly ever held in detention. In fact, they are even given work permits while they wait to hear whether or not they will be allowed to stay in Costa Rica. In contrast, thousands of refugees who enter the U.S. are detained within its borders.
6. According to a new Protection Transfer Agreement (PTA) made in July, Costa Rica will host up to 200 pre-screened refugees for up to six months while they are processed for placement in the U.S. or elsewhere. No other buffer country in modern Latin American history has offered temporary protection for refugees in this way.
7. Costa Rican administration sends high-level immigration officials to parts of Latin America, particularly El Salvador and Honduras, to help it gain a better understanding of the violence currently taking place in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
8. Costa Rican refugees looking to enter the United States are provided with shelter and safety but are not given job opportunities or healthcare benefits under their temporary humanitarian visas. This renders many vulnerable to poor living conditions.
9. The people of Costa Rica hold many xenophobic and discriminatory beliefs, particularly towards Nicaraguan refugees, who comprise the second largest refugee demographic in South America. Over the past 10 years, Costa Rica has increased restrictions on immigration to dissuade low-income migrants from Nicaragua from entering.
10. For many refugees, Costa Rica is only a pit stop on the way to the U.S. “Coyotes” smuggle them through Nicaragua into the States.
Though imperfect, Costa Rica’s refugee hosting policy sets a beautiful example for the world. The country’s low rates of crime, violence and impoverishment and mostly open doors make it appealing to people fleeing their countries of origin.
– Kayla Provencher