Costa Rica


Operation: Opération: Costa Rica



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Key Figures

2019 planning figures
5,000 people of concern receiving legal assistance
3,510 people of concern registered on an individual basis with minimum set of data required
3,500 people of concern receiving humanitarian aid through different partners
1,900 people of concern receiving training for livelihood purposes  
1,250 people of concern provided with guidance on labour market opportunities
50% capacity support provided to Government status determination staff who will determine over 15,000 asylum claims 
100 reported SGBV incidents for which survivors are provided with a safe space
2017 year-end results
1,380 newly arrived asylum-seekers were provided with legal assistance 
1,110 families (2,310 people) received cash-based assistance  
1,040 people of concern were assisted with late birth registration procedures 
170 people of concern were provided with psychological individual assistance, of whom 55 were SGBV survivor women
130 people of concern from the NCA with heightened protection risks benefited from the Protection Transfer Arrangement (PTA), an humanitarian evacuation programme 

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Increase in
2018 37,287
2017 12,015
2016 7,953


[["Refugees",4547],["Asylum-seekers",32618],["Stateless",82],["Others of concern",40]]
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Costa Rica

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2018 {"categories":[2014,2015,2016,2017,2018,2019],"budget":[2.88287074,3.028757242,4.77087632,6.46405512,12.08599401,23.990906],"expenditure":[1.9659955,2.50565576,3.45812078,4.33992142,8.33893744,null]} {"categories":[2014,2015,2016,2017,2018,2019],"p1":[2.88287074,3.028757242,4.52223732,6.05407202,12.08599401,23.990906],"p2":[null,null,0.248639,0.4099831,null,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[null,null,null,null,null,null]} {"categories":[2014,2015,2016,2017,2018,2019],"p1":[1.9659955,2.50565576,3.21075754,4.0048406,8.33893744,null],"p2":[null,null,0.24736324,0.33508082,null,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[null,null,null,null,null,null]}
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  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019

Operational context 

Presidential elections held in April 2018 led to the current ruling Party remaining in office, resulting in an opportunity to maintain the State’s engagement on MINARE. UNHCR focused on ensuring that key national stakeholders remain committed and take positive action on refugee protection, as well as extended financial and technical support to improve the capacity to protect and assist people of concern.
As a result of unrest in Nicaragua, in April 2018, Costa Rica saw an exponential increase in the number of asylum applications from Nicaraguans. A significant shift in the operational strategy was required toward the end of the year to meet the actual needs.
UNHCR’s response in Costa Rica was part of a regional response plan for the Nicaragua situation focused on strengthening reception capacities in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras. In Costa Rica, where the majority of Nicaraguan asylum claims were filed, UNHCR supported admission to territory, enhancing reception conditions as well as RSD processing and cash-based interventions.
On combatting statelessness, Costa Rica became the first country in the region to grant citizenship to a stateless person in 2018.

Population trends

The number of people of concern in Costa Rica reached close to 37,290 people - a significant increase from the 12,020 people of concern at the end of 2017.
A majority, 87%, of the population of concern are asylum-seekers, of which 85% applied during 2018. Of these new applicants, 23,140 were Nicaraguans (83%); 2,880 were Venezuelans (10%); 1,260 were from the North of Central America countries (4.5%); 533 were Colombians (2%); and 178 of other nationalities (0.5%).

Key achievements

To respond to the unforeseen influx of Nicaraguan asylum-seekers, UNHCR submitted emergency preparedness and contingency plans, reallocated funds, reviewed existing programmes, strengthened its border presence and monitoring, reviewed staffing needs and strengthened the Migration Authority’s capacity to carry out asylum claim processing. The sudden increase in asylum-seekers in the country also led to the need to combat negative public attitudes and misinformation, both at national and local levels.
UNHCR continued to aim for the consolidation of a State-led response that ensures the effectiveness of the national asylum systems and includes people of concern in national protection and integration programmes. UNHCR undertook temporary gap-filling activities to support the Government in assisting the most vulnerable populations and to adapt its refugee response to face the influx.
In addition, free legal assistance was further reinforced in association with La Salle University’s Legal Clinic, University of Costa Rica Legal Clinic, and the Bar Association.
UNHCR successfully advocated for temporary IDs for asylum-seekers to be issued on the date of lodging their application. The Government made amendments to ensure that temporary IDs were effective for accessing health, banking services, government-run poverty reduction programmes and social welfare.
UNHCR and UNCT advocacy also resulted in the approval of Executive Decree 41337 which enabled trans-gender asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants to have names of choice (in line with their gender identity) included in their ID instead of their original civil registry names.

Unmet needs

As a result of sudden increase in the number of asylum-seekers, the new Government put on hold a series of activities that had been discussed and agreed on, including complementary pathways of admission to bring Syrian refugees to Costa Rica under existing protection mechanisms that had already been implemented in the country.
The roll out UNHCR proGres v4 registration tool was also put on hold. However, starting April in 2018, UNHCR piloted proGres v4 for internal use of the operation and partners aimed at the early identification of people facing protection risks, address specific protection needs and provide humanitarian assistance where necessary.
Socio-political unrest in Nicaragua has put a strain on relations between the Governments of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, which hampered bi-national initiatives to address barriers to late-birth registration and issuance of nationality documentation to those Nicaraguans who are entitled to it. This has negatively affected the efforts to reduce or eradicate the risk of statelessness among transnational workers of Nicaraguan origin.

Working environment

The working environment in Costa Rica is strongly characterized by the displacement caused by situations in Colombia, the North of Central America (NCA) and Venezuela, reaching close to 11,000 refugees and asylum-seekers as of 2017. Costa Rica has also become a transit country for people in a mixed movements and asylum-seekers from other regions, such as Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, in their journey northwards.
The number of new applications from Venezuelans has risen by 1,681 per cent over the last three years. With an average recognition rate of 10 per cent for the Venezuelan caseload, many Venezuelans do not meet the Refugee Convention’s criteria though they may require international protection.
Costa Rica’s sound protection and integration environment for people of concern in expected to continue in 2018.
Refugee and asylum-seekers have mixed socio-economic background. The socio-demographic profile of NCA nationals in Costa Rica is decreasing their local integration prospects, as they mainly arrive in large families and often experience vulnerabilities. Due to unemployment, the self-reliance prospects of people of concern are limited. Barriers to employment are posed by the labour competition in urban areas and the high cost of obtaining and renewing a refugee ID.
As one of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) pilot countries, consultations in Costa Rica have so far assessed the achievements made in the Brazil Plan of Action implementation, such as quality of asylum; alternatives to administrative detention; local integration for those people of concern who are included in the national social programmes; benefit from corporate social responsibility schemes; and refugees count on facilitated naturalisation procedures. Through the CRRF, the Government of Costa Rica will take full responsibility of the refugee Protection and Solution programmes, while UNHCR and partner agencies will complement the Government’s actions through gap filling initiatives.  

Key priorities

In 2018, UNHCR will focus on:
  • Enhancing presence at points of entry to the territory;
  • Strengthening the Government’s RSD capacity;
  • In line with Costa Rica´s CRRF, advocating for gratuity of refugee IDs to allow access to rights on the same footing as nationals
  • Supporting the Government’s initiatives for child protection and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) prevention and response;
  • Filling any possible gaps in Government-led humanitarian initiatives, in line with the Commitments agreed within MINARE;
  • Enhancing refugees’ access to employment through the “Living Integration”, a corporate social responsibility communication strategy
  • Consolidating the Protection Transfer Arrangement (PTA), a programme, which aims at the humanitarian evacuation of people at heightened risk from El Salvador to Costa Rica, and from there to other resettlement countries;
  • In line with CRRF, UNHCR will advocate for Complementary protection measures for those who do not meet the 1951 Convention refugee criteria and are still in need of international protection.
Latest contributions
  • 14-NOV-2019
    United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
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  • 31-OCT-2019

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  • 30-OCT-2019

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  • 29-OCT-2019