QCOSTARICA — “We are not guerrillas, nor do we come to assault anyone. We are people who just crossed the jungle and now retain us here. We are grateful to the spoonful of food they are giving us, but the children are still hungry and many of those who are attending us see us with bad eyes because we have not brushed our teeth, because perhaps we do not appear what we really are and are physical worn out. What we want is to let us continue (onward).”
“Yesterday they promised us an order, that all the people who were in the waiting area were moving out, and another group arrived that went before us. The despair of the people is getting out of control, it is getting out of hand. They (authorities) helped us with some buses or let us walk, we want to reach our destination because in the jungle there were many who failed to make it and we did not want wear to win.”
Carlos (fictitious name to keep confidentiality) is a Venezuelan migrant who with a broken voice and tears on his face told the university weekly, SemanarioUniversidad.com, what he had lived through for four days in the Centro de Atención Temporal para Personas Migrantes (CATEM) – Temporary Care Center for migrants – in the southern part of Costa Rica, where he assured that they keep them locked up, hungry and without the possibility of leaving to find work and thus pay for the bus fare (currently US$40) to travel to the northern border.
The weekly reported firsthand the plight of migrants in a special coverage in the southern part of the country between October 11 and 13, despite the fact that the permits were denied to enter the CATEM, given the reason of ‘security measures’.
Despite the denial, the Semanario was able to verify the situation faced by migrants through interviews, and conversations with sources, including merchants and migrants, who asked for anonymity, that the immigration crisis is a time bomb and can explode at any time.
On October 11, a group of migrants attempted a mutiny in the CATEM, claiming decent conditions and allowing them to leave the center. It is evident the concern of the authorities to prevent entry to anyone not previously authorized. Evident was the police deployment.
The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería (DGME) – Costa Rica’s immigration service – issued a statement at that time ensuring that the immigration police controlled the incident caused by migrants, mostly Venezuelans.
“Migrants say they don’t want to be in CATEM; however, they are explained that they cannot remain in the streets, so, for security, their transfer was made,” said the DGME in an official statement.
It was a matter of time
Three different people who work in the internal work of the Center commented anonymously that the facilities were saturated with migrants and knew that “it was a matter of time” the despair of the people would explode.
Despite this, Marta Vindas, general director of Immigration, through the Press office, assured that in the shelter process, there were (as of October 16) 220 people and that the Center has a capacity for 300 people, who receive medical care, food, sanitation facilities and rest space.
However, she did not indicate the number of people who were in the CATEM traffic zone, that is, those who are waiting for their relatives to send them money for bus fare.
Since it was not possible to enter the facilities, the Semanario reporting team settled on the outskirts of the CATEM, where little by little migrants approached and, from a mesh fence that separated them, they recounted what they were experiencing inside.
“Here we live the same situation of a prisoner, they tell me, ‘You are in my country, you should not have left yours,’ I have been in the shelters for more than a month, they move me from one to another, I have three months of delay on my trip and when I tried to sell to earn money and move my family they confiscated everything. Here inside (CATEM) the first thing you see when you wake up are bars,” said one of the migrants who preferred not to give his name.
The stories of those who were approaching the fence continued to coincide, little availability of drinking water, overcrowding, and constant hunger, because they said that there was a certain amount of tickets for food, which did not coincide with the number of people housed, Even as spectators we could see how a girl passed out and needed emergency services.
“It is because we are different. Here I just saw a girl asking her dad for food and he had to tell her that he has no way to give her any because he has no ticket. We have gone through a tragedy and what we want is a better quality of life, we do not want to stay in their country (Costa Rica),” said a migrant.
Others affirmed that the aid that international organizations are sending is not arriving, that they give them “crumbs of food”, and that on that day they only gave them rice with a slice of cheese, but not enough for everyone. “What they are doing here is an outrage to human rights,” added a young woman.
According to the Agency of the United Nations Organization for Refugees (UNHCR), the Mesoamerican region faces a significant increase in the number of people in mobility, and estimates that, only during 2023, some 400,000 people have crossed the Darien jungle as they continue on their journey to the United States.
For its part, according to official data from Costa Rica, so far in September some 60,000 migrants have entered from Panama through the border post of the Paso Canoas.
In 2022, the number of migrants entering through the border with Panama was 226,000 people, an increase of almost 80% compared to 2021, according to the UN.
“The situation on the country’s southern border is complex due to the scale of the displacement and the care and protection needs of people in the mixed movement to the north that includes men, women, minors and seniors, and the size and capacity of border communities such as Paso Canoas and Los Chiles. This situation is not exclusive to Costa Rica, but is repeated on each of the region’s borders,” commented Natalia Díaz, communications associate at UNHCR Costa Rica.
According to Díaz, UNHCR staff coordinate directly with national authorities to provide advice and technical support to the DGME, and participate in the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable people, which includes basic necessities such as clothing and hygiene products, when these are available.