News Stories, 23 January 2008
MEXICO CITY, Mexico, January 23 (UNHCR) – UNHCR officials flew to Nicaragua from Mexico this week to help the government interview 49 people, including three unaccompanied minors, who have asked for asylum after recently arriving in the country.
Many of the asylum seekers, originating from Angola, Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Somalia and South Africa, arrived in Nicaragua by sea. UNHCR officials said it was unusual for such a large group of asylum seekers to arrive in Nicaragua at about the same time.
Many of the new arrivals are believed to have stowed away on ocean-going ships in Africa and were apparently forced off the vessels when they arrived near the coast of Central America.
Initial reports indicate that a number of other stowaways perished during the sea journey. Some of the petitioners are ill and have alleged that they are the victims of torture.
UNHCR officials flew to Nicaragua on Monday and have interviewed the asylum seekers, who are being held at a migration holding centre in the capital, Managua. Arrangements are being made to allow the asylum seekers to leave the centre while their applications are studied.
The group of 49 includes three unaccompanied minors. They are expected to be transferred later this week to a shelter run by a local non-governmental organization.
The arrival of the asylum seekers comes at a time when Nicaragua is close to finalizing national refugee legislation. "Nicaragua has a long tradition of providing international protection to asylum seekers, and has worked very closely with UNHCR over the years," noted Kevin Allen, senior regional protection officer with the refugee agency.
"UNHCR is pleased to provide technical support to the government of Nicaragua during the adjudication of these 49 asylum petitions, and we look forward to working with legislators who aim to pass a refugee law which will further strengthen the asylum system in Nicaragua," Allen added.
Nicaragua is one of several countries that lie on a major migration route from South America to the United States and Canada. UNHCR has noted that increasing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers are included in mixed migration flows.
Those following this south-north migration route include people from Central and South America as well as people from beyond the region – notably Africa and Asia – who arrive in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, sometimes by boat.
The UN refugee agency regularly calls on ship captains to treat stowaways humanely and has also expressed concern that people coming from Africa and Asia are taking such long and dangerous routes to find protection.