Costa Rica: UNHCR calls for review of new immigration legislation, lists concerns

Briefing Notes, 12 August 2005

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 12 August 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We are concerned about the impact a new immigration law moving towards final approval in Costa Rica would have on refugees and asylum seekers and call on Costa Rican lawmakers to review key sections of the legislation.

The proposed law does not contain any definition of what constitutes a refugee as stated in the 1951 Convention, to which Costa Rica is a signatory member, and there is no reference to the key principle of non-refoulement although this principle is found in the Costa Rican Constitution. The proposed law also creates unjustified reasons for removing refugee status contrary to the 1951 Convention for example, any sanction leading to the withdrawal of refugee status would automatically apply to other family members without consideration for their individual protection needs.

Finally, the proposed law does not guarantee refugees the right to work. Although the right to work is respected in practice by Costa Rican authorities, such a right should be part of any new legislation so that refugees can achieve self-reliance in local society without undue burden on the government.

UNHCR recognizes the need to modernise Costa Rica's legislation to reflect the new realities of migration waves, including trafficking in persons and the smuggling of migrants as well as the real changes in refugee movements. Based on our protection mandate and our technical competence, we have been advising the government over the past several years on the elaboration of a new law. We will continue to do so in the hope that any new legislation on asylum and immigration will protect the right of people whose lives are in danger to seek safety in other countries as stipulated under international refugee law.

We recognize and appreciate Costa Rica's long tradition of receiving asylum seekers and refugees, most importantly during the Central American conflicts of the 1980s, and their current reception of significant numbers of Colombian refugees. However, we believe that some of the provisions of the proposed legislation are restrictive and contrary to the spirit of the 1951 Convention on Refugees. This could lead to an exacerbation of the already unfriendly climate towards asylum seekers and refugees in the country. We urge the Costa Rican government to enact a new law that will effectively deal with the immigration issues the country faces while at the same time respecting the nation's commitment to human rights.