Apart from marches and union demonstrations, Monday dawned with long lines of Nicaraguan citizens in the vicinity of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería (DGME) – Costa Rica immigration service – in La Uruca.
Between 6:00 am and 6:30 am the line stretched for more than 500 meters (five blocks) and was visible from the Autopista General Cañas
The men, women, and children are Nicaraguan citizens who seek refuge in Costa Rica due to the socio-political crisis that their home country has been experiencing for over 2 months.
According to estimates by the Ministry of Public Security (MSP), 80% of Nicaraguans applying for refuge have lived in Costa Rica for years. The other 20% are Nicaraguans fleeing the violence and repression in their country.
“They are taking advantage of the situation (in Nicaragua) to get legalized (in Costa Ric),” said Michael Soto, Minister of the MSP.
Last Monday alone some 1,500 Nicaraguans arrived at the immigration offices, forcing officials to implement a plan to handle 200 requests a day or 1,000 per week.
For them, there is no cold, rain, heat or hunger to stop them, because they have a clear objective.
“You have to sleep here (in line) to achieve something. I arrived Sunday morning and I am here until they help me because in Nicaragua things are very difficult.
“I came alone for what is happening (the conflicts). I left my three children with my mother and I cannot sleep because I have not found work, I do not know what to do, without work and without papers, it is very difficult”, explained Margarita Madrigal, one of the foreigners who maintains the hope of obtaining refuge.
The Acting Director of Migration, Daguer Hernández, said that not all the Nicaraguans who arrive are candidates for refuge because there are many who have lived in Costa Rica in an irregular manner (illegally) for years.
However, Hernandez clarified, that even those who do not meet the requirements to obtain refuge are cared for and, as their case progresses, they are told the reasons why they cannot continue with the request.
“We are going to talk to the people who come to ask for refuge, we do not have formal requests at the border, which would be normal in a crisis, so the people who are going to immigration are people who are already living in Costa Rica and who think that this condition of refuge allows them to regularize their immigration status,” explained the Acting Director.
Hernandez also clarified that the refuge does not make any person entitled to money nor does it give access to the health services of the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS).
Minister Soto added that police are safeguarding the many foreigners camping the night to be first in line in the morning.
This Monday morning there was also a Cruz Roja (Red Cross) unit, while officers of the Policía de Migración (immigration police) ensured order along the long line.
The Refuge Process
Despite the thousands, the last count is at least 4,000 Nicaraguans, looking for refuge in Costa Rica, the approval margin, in general, is approximately 6%.
After the long wait in line and obtaining the appointment, people interested in obtaining refuge fill out a form and, from that information, immigration officials review the international databases and the migratory movements to know if they have an open file.
If they qualify, after completing the first phase of the process, they get a second interview and it is with the Comisión de Visas de Refugio (Refugee Visa Commission) – created by the Ley de Migración (Immigration Law) – that determines whether or not refugee status is granted.
“A person who has well-founded fears of being persecuted by nationality, race, religion, gender, belonging to a social group or political opinions fits within that legal definition of refuge, without that condition they should not do request process,” said Hernández.