QCOSTARICA – “I know that I am here for security reasons, to safeguard my life and my integrity, but it has been quite difficult. It is a change of culture, a change of currency, a total change of life. I’m completely starting from scratch,” says Marjourie Duarte, a Nicaraguan who recently went into exile in Costa Rica.
She arrived just over two months ago to seek refuge from the constant harassment she received from the Ortega police in Nicaragua. She is 29 years old, she lived in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, studied Anthropology for five years, and was in her fourth year of Law.
Since 2018, she has withdrawn from the Anthropology career of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN-Managua) as a gesture of civil disobedience and she joined the protests against the Ortega Murillo regime during the rebellion of April of that year.
Since she began to participate in the demonstrations, she was threatened by members of the Consejo del Poder Ciudadano (Council of Citizen Power) in her area, known as CPC. In 2019, she joined the University Coordinator for Democracy and Justice (CUDJ) and began to receive threats from police friends in a more direct way.
This year, the siege was more constant. They were not only threatening her, but also her family, so she had to take shelter in safe houses so as not to continue exposing her loved ones. In June she moved to a farm outside the capital and they located her, so she decided to leave for Costa Rica.
“I came here on June 19, the majority of the last 30 detainees were already there (arrested). Tamara, Félix, Juan Sebastián were already there… and I didn’t want to be part of that list,” referring to the 34 of the more 130 political prisoners of the regime.
Increase in applications from June
Marjourie is now one of the 22,813 refugee requests that Costa Rica has received from Nicaraguans since January of this year to date.
As Allan Rodríguez, head of the Refugee Unit of the Dirección de Migración y Extranjería de Costa Rica, (DGME) – Costa Rica’s immigration service, requests have increased considerably since June due to the repressive events in Nicaragua.
Between January and May, the monthly average of refugee applications from Nicaraguans was 1,300; In June alone the figure climbed to 4,378 and has continued to grow consistently since then.
From 2018 to date, the Costa Rican Refugee Unit has recorded 86,916 refugee requests by Nicaraguans, with the community covering more than 80% of the total requests.
Carlos Huezo, director of SOS Nicaragua Human Rights CR, estimates that approximately 30% of the exiles who recently arrived in Costa Rica still need to make the call to make their refugee request.
Before 2018, Nicaraguans migrated to Costa Rica to improve their economic and employment situation. Now they are joined by refugees with a diverse profile.
Alberto Cortés Ramos, political scientist and geographer, professor at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) describes this migration as one with a high level of political activity. “They are more professional and there are a lot of university students, social leaders, human rights activists,” he says.
The growth of family nuclei that move together has been important during the last three years, according to the Refugee Unit.
Rodríguez adds that in the last two months they have also had more requests from Nicaraguan journalists.
Jobless and undocumented amid a recovering economy
The arrival of more refugees to Costa Rica occurs when its economy is just beginning to recover from the health closures caused by COVID-19, so finding a job is very difficult.
“The pandemic aggravated the chances of labor insertion and survival, and (the situation) of a significant part of the population that came after 2018 is very precarious,” says Cortés.
This is confirmed by Huezo, who adds that there was already a humanitarian crisis prior to the covid-19 pandemic and that it is going uphill.
“As an organization we see the situation somewhat alarming, because it is expected that by the end of this year we will have more than 40,000 refugees,” warns Huezo.
Another obstacle for refugee applicants is the response time from immigration authorities.
Marjourie has a refugee application card and is awaiting her work permit, but the final appointment to determine her status is scheduled for 2025. Four years away.
This situation limits Marjourie’s job opportunities because to guarantee her studies done in Nicaragua she needs to have her refugee status resolved. At the moment, the only title that he has is that of Accounting Technician, which she has not been able to certify at Costa Rica’s Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (INA) – National Institute of Learning – for not having her refugee case resolved.
“I am an applicant, this situation allows me to show that I am only a high school graduate,” she says sadly. Despite this, some refugees seek to alleviate the lack of job opportunities with entrepreneurship, while others aspire to continue their academic training.
Marjourie hopes to have her work permit at the end of September to start looking for a job. Meanwhile, she is in acting classes and looking for studies that will allow her to grow in the neighboring country.
“I intend to study, I feel that education is a tool that allows us to have a better quality of life. And since I could not finish my degree in Nicaragua, it would be ideal to have the flexibility to be able to enter universities,” Marjourie suggests.
For the political scientist Cortés, migration does not have to be a burden, but rather an opportunity for Costa Rica.
“They are people who really want to get ahead, with skills and experiences. From a medium and long-term perspective, migration can make an important contribution in terms of the country’s demography, economy and culture,” he adds.
To expedite the response process, the Refugee Unit with the help of the UN Agency for Refugees, UNHCR, has extended the opening hours and created mechanisms so that applicants can schedule or reschedule appointments, depending on the case.
“I had the first appointment with migration on September 27 so that they gave me the refugee application card, but there was a migration notice that could be advanced and I wrote an email for them to do it,” says Marjourie.
Rodríguez comments that many people have taken advantage of this initiative to have a valid document and thus gain access to services and integrate into Costa Rican society.
He adds that the Refugee Unit is preparing “for what may come” in the face of the possible worsening of the Nicaraguan crisis after the November elections of this year.
On the other hand, the organizations that support the migrant population express their concern to the international community.
“At the humanitarian level, there are not enough funds to be able to send comprehensive and sustainable aid for this new wave, and we have to remember that the 103,000 who are already in the country were having a very bad time,” says Huezo.
After three years of a constant flow of tens of thousands of Nicaraguans seeking refuge in Costa Rica, a long-term solution is needed to facilitate the stay and stability of Nicaraguans.
For Cortés, a democratic transition is necessary to allow the Nicaraguan population to return to their country. If this does not occur, he believes that Costa Rica should consolidate the status of refuge for this population and generate a mixed productive reactivation plan.
Meanwhile, the Nicaraguans in Costa Rica try to establish themselves and do not stop denouncing the abuses that are experienced in Nicaragua.
Marjourie wants to continue being a spokesperson for the human rights violations that occur in Nicaragua. “Report from a safer space” what Nicaraguans live within the country and prepare to contribute to Nicaragua from the neighboring country.