After taking part in protests against the Nicaraguan government, Enrique*, 69, was kidnapped by a paramilitary group, tortured and finally released. The traumatic experience made him a different person.
“I still remember those days,” he says. “I returned home feeling a constant shadow, [like] I was followed everywhere,” he says. Unable to bear the risk any longer, he fled to Costa Rica in search of safety.
The rapid erosion of political norms in Nicaragua since April 2018 has led to acute violence and human rights violations, forcing tens of thousands of Nicaraguans to flee to other countries. The vast majority went south, and within a year more than 33,000 Nicaraguans had filed asylum claims in Costa Rica. With reception capacity overstretched, another 28,095 are still waiting to formalize their asylum claims with the national authorities.
"I always dreamt of bringing my father here.”
Enrique describes the long journey, crossing the countryside through rivers and dense jungle. Once he saw pineapple fields, a rarity in Nicaragua, he realized he had made it to Costa Rica. “I knew I was on the other side. I hid in a pile of sacks, transported by a trucker who helped me. I immediately felt relieved.” Soon after arriving, he filed his claim for asylum.
But his worries were not over. With his parents, wife and children still in Nicaragua, Enrique knew they were at risk and searched for a way to get them all to safety. Weeks turned into months. Enrique struggled to make arrangements to bring them all to Costa Rica.
One night, Enrique dreamt about his father, his house decorated for a funeral. Then the phone rang and woke him. “When the call came, I knew my father had died. That has been the most difficult thing about my stay in Costa Rica; I always dreamt of bringing my father here.”
While thousands of people have fled Nicaragua, many families have been torn apart without knowing whether they would ever see each other again. Luckily for Enrique, he was able to bring his wife, two daughters and one grandson to a place where they feel safe and can rebuild their lives.
Around 70,000 Nicaraguans have claimed asylum, or stated their intention to do so, across the region, including Panama, Mexico and the United States. But with no solutions to the political and social crisis in sight, the number of people displaced is likely to keep rising.
Although he has been struggling to make ends meet, Enrique is not giving up. Every day he puts on his hat, a memory from his home, and goes out to work informal jobs. “We have some financial problems, but at least we are together and we are safe.”
Costa Rica, a safe haven for Nicaraguans and other asylum-seekers
In Costa Rica, the asylum system has been strained by the recent influx of Nicaraguans fleeing persecution for their actual or perceived role in anti-government protests and activities. At the same time, the country is experiencing the large-scale arrival of Venezuelans, as well as people fleeing criminal violence and persecution in El Salvador and Honduras and the long-standing displacement from Colombia.
To help ensure their protection, Costa Rica is working with the international community to give immediate relief and set the basis for local integration. This innovative approach is part of a new inter-institutional approach to help displaced people and their host communities thrive, known as Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework (MIRPS in Spanish).
The country’s legal framework allows asylum-seekers and refugees to access basic needs and services, including national welfare programmes that benefit vulnerable populations living in extreme poverty, access to public education, scholarships and job placement. Nevertheless, Costa Rica is facing economic challenges and undergoing fiscal reform.
* Names changed for protection reasons.