Costa Rica


Operation: Opération: Costa Rica



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Key Figures

2020 year-end results
24,978  people (71.6% of active population that are registered) received assistance from UNHCR or partners
22,675  people newly registered by UNHCR
19,591 people informed on the refugee status determination (RSD) process and assistance programmes remotely or in person
10,377 people (part of 4,623 household), assisted with cash (63% of whom were Nicaraguans)
6,000 people of concern received medical insurance under an agreement with the national Social Security authority
2,381 people received certified training to improve access to employment
112 refugees received seed capital to launch a small business
2021 planning figures
19,000 people will be registered for further assistance
6,960 household to be supported with cash assistance
4,000 refugees and asylum seekers will receive legal assistance

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Increase in
2020 121,996
2019 114,535
2018 37,287


[["Refugees",9648],["Asylum-seekers",89748],["Stateless",199],["Venezuelans displaced abroad",22401]]
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Costa Rica

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2020 {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"budget":[4.77087632,6.464055119999999,12.08599401,24.005906475,26.85230847,32.1099232],"expenditure":[3.4581207800000002,4.33992142,8.33893744,13.711815099999999,16.67354898,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[4.52223732,6.0540720199999996,12.08599401,24.005906475,26.85230847,32.1099232],"p2":[0.248639,0.4099831,null,null,null,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[null,null,null,null,null,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[3.21075754,4.0048406000000005,8.33893744,13.711815099999999,16.67354898,null],"p2":[0.24736323999999998,0.33508082,null,null,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
  • 2020
  • 2021

Operational context

Costa Rica has welcomed asylum-seekers from Latin America and other parts of the world for decades. In line with its favorable framework for the protection and integration of asylum-seekers and refugees, the country adopted the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, locally known as MINARE, as a national application of the Global Compact on Refugees.

In recent years, an increasing influx of people from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and, more recently, Nicaragua have resulted in serious strains on national systems, including education, health, social protection, and legal assistance. The capacity of the national Refugee Unit to receive and process cases was exceeded, causing significant delays in the delivery of documentation and work permits for asylum-seekers and slowed the implementation  of the Quality Assurance Initiative Consequently, access to rights and services by people of concern to UNHCR was limited and ultimately increased their vulnerability. 

Mobility restrictions decreed to contain the pandemic and border closures halted the influx of new arrivals. The restrictions also forced the temporary closure of the Refugee Unit for eight months, which left 27,000 people waiting for documentation and unable to access certain services, while many others saw their documents and work permits expire.

The economic impact of the pandemic and the increase in unemployment in Costa Rica hit refugees hard. Prior to the pandemic declaration in March 2020, and thanks to effective local integration initiatives in Costa Rica, only 3% of refugees were eating once a day or less. According to a humanitarian assessment conducted by UNHCR in July and August, months after the health emergency was declared, the majority of Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers in the country, 63% of the total, were eating only two meals a day.
The increased need for humanitarian assistance and the government´s diminished response capacity required increased support from UNHCR. The pandemic also fueled xenophobic feelings against people of concern to UNHCR.

Population trends

By the end of 2020, Costa Rica hosted 121,983 people of concern to UNHCR, which includes 9,613 refugees, 89,770 asylum-seekers (85% are from Nicaragua, 7% from Venezuelan and 4% from Cuba), 22,401 Venezuelans Displaced Abroad and 199 persons under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate (65 stateless and 134 are pending recognition).

Key achievements

To ensure continued support during lockdown, assistance programmes were adapted to the pandemic context.
  • A Field Unit was established in San Jose to enhance operational presence and ensure the provision of humanitarian assistance. 
  • By supporting the streamlining of RSD procedures, the total recognition rate by the Government increased from 21% in 2019 to 49% in 2020. 
  • The inclusion of people of concern in assistance programmes was ensured through safe and remote registration.
  • Free of charge and remote information was provided through additional and dedicated resource capacity
  • The cash assistance programmes remained fully operational throughout the lockdown and a specific grant was created to assist people at heightened need due to the pandemic.
  • Health insurance for 6,000 refugees and asylum seekers at heightened need was provided.

Unmet needs

As UNHCR Operations in Costa Rica were only 65% funded, needs were only partially met.
  • While cash assistance was enhanced, available funds were insufficient to address the increased needs caused by the pandemic for those living outside the metropolitan area, particularly in the northern region and along the coast. 
  • The closure of the Refugee Unit delayed the implementation of the Quality Assurance Initiative.
  • Rising unemployment disproportionally affected people of concern because of additional access barriers, including the recognition of work permits. Efforts to enhance work opportunities through technical training and advocacy with the private sector were insufficient to address the existing needs.

Use of flexible funding (unearmarked or softly earmarked funding)

A total of US$ 4.1 million was invested through two consecutive agreements with the Costa Rican Social Security agency. As a result, 6,000 people of concern living with a medical condition or in extreme vulnerability were insured. Thanks to flexible funds, the impact of this project was expanded during the pandemic. As a successful initiative, a new agreement in 2021 will increase coverage to 10,000 people of concern up to December 2021. 

Thanks to unrestricted funds, UNHCR was able to provide timely cash assistance to cover life-saving needs, including food, shelter and transport for at least three months for families harshly impacted by the severity of the pandemic.


Working environment

Costa Rica has become a transit and destination country for asylum-seekers from the four main refugee situations in the Americas: Colombia, North of Central America (NCA), Venezuela, and most recently, Nicaragua, as well as for people in mixed movements.
This influx of asylum-seekers is expected to continue, with an estimated 100,000 asylum claims expected by end 2019, equivalent to 2% of Costa Rica’s total population. These increasing trends are expected to continue through 2020. A lack of solutions in other parts of the region for people of concern from the NCA; further deterioration of the socio-economic and security conditions in Venezuela; the situation of stalled negotiations and prevailing security and human rights situation in Nicaragua; are all likely to result in more arrivals in Costa Rica in 2020.
The vast increase in people of concern, particularly from Nicaragua, has challenged the State and UNHCR’s response capacities, demanding larger and more sustainable investments in humanitarian and integration programmes, and the need to address increased RSD backlogs.
This situation poses unique challenges for the Government of Costa Rica. The increase of asylum claims in the last year has exceeded the response capacity of the refugee unit of the Government. Despite the Government’s concerted efforts to process cases, asylum-seekers are compelled to wait between six to nine months to formalize their asylum requests with the Migration Authority, three more months to receive work permits, while appointments for asylum interviews are being scheduled for late 2022. This lengthy wait for asylum processing is affecting asylum-seekers’ ability to access basic rights - including food, shelter and health-care. 
Despite current challenges, the Government continues to honour the country’s long history of respect to human rights while maintaining open doors to asylum-seekers and refugees. Costa Rica’s national chapter of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, locally known as MINARE, is one of the most robust protection and solutions frameworks in the region. Led by the central Government, MINARE’s implementation has allowed the country to further develop good practices and to strengthen the refugee response by engaging with multiple stakeholders, including civil society, private sector, local governments and academia. 

Key priorities

In 2020, UNHCR will focus on:
  • supporting the Government in responding to the increased arrival of Nicaraguan and Venezuelan asylum-seekers, putting in place humanitarian response measures. This includes technical advice on the development of a form of stay.
  • supporting the Government to improve quality status determination procedures and to ensure that the existing asylum system continues to prioritize the balance of fairness and efficiency even while absorbing larger numbers of asylum claims.
  • UNHCR also continues to support efforts for integration of people of concern, including through partnerships with private sector, and other initiatives to improve access to employment and entrepreneurship.
  • working to guarantee that people of concern are able to access legal counseling and guidance, and representation in some cases, together with partners.
  • improving the access of people of concern to humanitarian programmes of the Government of Costa Rica, while utilizing cash-based interventions to support the most vulnerable people of concern in the meantime. Advocacy efforts will include ensuring equal access to public health care services for people of concern to that of nationals.
  • consolidating its community-based protection strategy and work towards having people of concern at the centre of all planned activities, making sure that that their inclusion, participation, and empowerment is further mainstreamed in all protection and solutions interventions.
  • engaging with host communities and promote inclusion of people of concern in the local development plans, to ensure access to rights, pacific coexistence and prevent xenophobia and racism. 
Latest contributions
  • 15-OCT-2021

    private donors

  • Germany
  • 14-OCT-2021
  • Qatar

    private donors

  • 12-OCT-2021

    private donors

  • Ireland
  • Italy

    private donors

  • 09-OCT-2021

    private donors

  • 08-OCT-2021
  • Japan

    private donors

  • 06-OCT-2021
    United States of America

    private donors

  • 05-OCT-2021

    private donors

  • Germany
  • 04-OCT-2021

    private donors

  • 01-OCT-2021

    private donors

  • Germany
  • 30-SEP-2021

    private donors

  • Switzerland

    private donors

  • Brazil

    private donors

  • Philippines

    private donors