Costa Rica


Operation: Opération: Costa Rica



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Key Figures

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 
2018 planning figures
12,000 people of concern will receive legal assistance
600 people of concern will receive vocational skills training for livelihood purposes
182 people of concern will be naturalized

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Increase in
2017 12,015
2016 7,953
2015 8,705


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Costa Rica

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  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018

Operational context

Costa Rica continued to receive refugees from Colombia, countries in the North of Central America (NCA) and Venezuela. Since 2014, the numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers have doubled on a yearly basis, with a significant increase of asylum-seekers from Venezuela in 2017. Costa Rica continued its policy of open borders, with no administrative detention nor deportation. Costa Rica’s longstanding commitment to protect and integrate refugees is reflected in the adoption of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) National Chapter—locally known as MINARE. In September 2017, the Government of Costa Rica agreed to grant work permits to asylum-seekers upon their lodging of an asylum claim. The implementation of MINARE offers a comprehensive response to the situation of refugees in the country, through the inclusion into national development, poverty reduction and employment programmes. Such efforts are acknowledged, regionally and worldwide, as a model of protection and integration of urban refugees in middle income countries.
However, Costa Rica is currently facing a fiscal deficit which can affect the sustainability of social programmes, particularly those benefitting UNHCR’s people of concern.

Population trends

At the year’s end the total number of people of concern in Costa Rica stood at some 12,000, comprising of: 4,490 refugees; 7,450 asylum-seekers; and 70 stateless persons/underdetermined nationality. Approximately half of the refugee population (2,340) are Colombians, followed by Salvadorians, Nicaraguans, Cubans, Venezuelans, Hondurans and other nationalities.
In 2017, close to 6,340 new arrivals sought asylum in Costa Rica, of whom 50 per cent (3,175) were from Venezuela, a 2,000% increase since the last four years. 

Key achievements

  • Close to 560 people of concern benefited from “living integration” programme. Some 400 people were guided on labour market opportunities, while 80 people benefited from self-employment programmes.
  • 65 people of concern benefited from self-employment programmes, of whom 41 formally established business ventures.

Unmet needs

Costa Rica’s public job hiring freeze policy limited the deployment of additional refugee status determination adjudicators, which resulted in backlogs.
The increased number of asylum-seekers poses new challenges, including the creation of long waiting times in RSD processing and backlogs.  
Refugees from the NCA have shown more complex integration challenges, requiring longer and more costly interventions, as they mainly arrive in larger family groups, including children and the elderly and in many cases lack of the necessary educational background to make employable in the local labour market.

Working environment

Costa Rica has an ever-increasing refugee status determination (RSD) caseload, being the destination country for a rising number of refugees from the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) and from Venezuela, as well a steady arrival of Colombian asylum seekers. In addition, it has become a transit country for the mixed migration movements further north, some of whom may apply for asylum in the country. A Protection Transfer Arrangement (PTA) was established to host approximately 400 people from the NTCA region who are in transit and awaiting resettlement to third countries in 2017. Based on current trends and making conservative projections, some 5,000 new asylum-seekers are expected in 2017, though higher numbers are not unlikely. With an average recognition rate of approximately 30 per cent, at least 6,700 people are expected to be recognised as refugees, increasing the estimated total to 15,000 people of concern. 

The Government of Costa Rica provides a comprehensive legal framework for accessing RSD procedures and allows both refugees and asylum-seekers the legal right to work in the country. However, documentation has a comparatively high cost and timeframes for recognition remain a challenge. The Government also provides access to education and health for refugee children under eighteen. 

Key Priorities

UNHCR will work together with the Government of Costa Rica to ensure quality RSD procedures and local integration for refugees, as well as to honour the commitments to eradicating statelessness by 2024. The 2016-2018 Comprehensive Protection and Durable Solutions Strategy is guided by the 2014 Brazil Declaration and Plan of Action and focuses on enhancing RSD through the Quality Assurance Initiative; border monitoring; addressing mixed migration flows; facilitating local integration through people of concern access to national programmes and implementation of the Living Integration livelihoods initiative and the Graduation approach; and the eradication of risk of statelessness programme, through partnering the Government in addressing sub-birth registration of transnational migrant workers and indigenous populations. 

UNHCR Costa Rica has supported the Refugee Unit and the Administrative Migration Tribunal in addressing excessive backlogs as a result of the increasing number of asylum claims - the trend of which is envisaged to continue during 2017vis-à-vis the government hiring freeze, by deploying additional adjudicators. FY2017, UNHCR will need to continue supporting the GoCR’s efforts in addressing such backlogs, at least during the first semester, and in continuing strengthening RSD procedures through QAI, should additional funding is allocated to the Operation. In the area of livelihoods, with the existing funding, the Operation will be able to cater only for the most and neediest vulnerable cases. Should available funding is allocated, the Operation will be in a position to address the needs of the overall vulnerable caseload. The PTA in its pilot phase has been completed in 2016. For the continuation of the PTA during 2017, additional funding is needed for the Operation to be able to continue addressing the protection needs of PoCs from the NCTA countries.  UNHCR has successfully implemented the Chiriticos’ Project to address sub-birth registration and lack of nationality documentation among the Ngöbe and Buglé communities in the Southern areas of Costa Rica. Should additional funding is available, the project could be extended to additional cantons in the Northern region to cater for other vulnerable populations settled along the border with Nicaragua, who may be at risk of statelessness.