Refugee bakery a sweet success in Costa Rica

With hard work, determination and a helping hand from UNHCR, Colombian refugees start a successful bakery in Costa Rican capital.

The Ángel Velásquez family – from left, Ricardo, Sebastián and Miriam – prepare bread at their bakery in San José, Costa Rica.
© UNHCR/Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo

Miriam Velásquez and her husband Ricardo Ángel may have fled violence in their native Colombia, but they reached safety in Costa Rica with their entrepreneurial spirit intact.

With hard work, determination and a helping hand from Costa Rican authorities and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, they have built a successful bakery.

“We came with the desire, and still have the determination, to strive do something, to work and to keep moving ahead,” says Miriam.

Serving up gluten-free versions of traditional Colombian treats – such as almojábanas, a dumpling shaped cheese bread – they have carved out a niche for themselves in the capital, San José.

Costa Rica has developed standout systems of protection allowing refugees to flourish. It allows refugees two asylum appeals and grants them the right to work and attend schools while their petitions are processed.

Through a programme developed by the Costa Rican Migration Agency in collaboration with UNHCR, refugees and asylum seekers also receive employment skills training, access to job fairs, and support to set up their own businesses.

Seed money from UNHCR has helped Ricardo invest in training and equipment, and the couple are now lobbying to extend financial credit to other refugee entrepreneurs.

“Maybe what we’ve done can serve as an example for many others still arriving,” Miriam says.