Costa Rica


Operation: Opération: Costa Rica



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Key Figures

2019 year-end results
16,200  people of concern were registered by UNHCR in 2019 (73% of whom were Nicaraguans)
11,300  people of concern (70% of total registered) received assistance from UNHCR or partners
6,200  sectoral cash transfers were distributed to meet emergency shelter, food and education needs
3,100  people of concern received guidance on labor market opportunities
2,200 households (approximately 6,500 individuals) received multipurpose cash transfers for 3 months
2020 planning figures
100% of people of concern will have access to status determination procedure
75% of people of concern will have formal access to work opportunities
60% of people of concern will have access to legal orientation or counseling
2,000 refugee households will receive cash grants

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Increase in
2019 114,535
2018 37,287
2017 12,015


[["Refugees",6217],["Asylum-seekers",87190],["Stateless",231],["Others of concern",69],["Venezuelans displaced abroad",20828]]
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Costa Rica

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2019 {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"budget":[4.77087632,6.464055119999999,12.08599401,24.005906475,26.85230847,27.000000359999998],"expenditure":[3.4581207800000002,4.33992142,8.33893744,13.711815099999999,null,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[4.52223732,6.0540720199999996,12.08599401,24.005906475,26.85230847,27.000000359999998],"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,null,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

Operational context

Costa Rica continued to host displaced people from across the region, with asylum-seekers from Colombia, Nicaragua, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and countries in the north of Central America. The country also served as a transit location for Cubans and Haitians, as well as people on the move from other continents.

Despite maintaining its open border policy and long-standing commitment to refugees, the significant influx of asylum-seekers from Nicaragua and increased arrivals from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela during 2019 placed additional strain on national services. Limited capacity within the asylum system resulted in an increasing backlog and heightened vulnerability for those waiting to register an asylum claim. Nicaraguans who had fled without the necessary documentation experienced difficulties in having their essential needs met.

Costa Rica demonstrated its commitment during the Global Refugee Forum 2019, acting as co-convener and highlighting the country’s good practices, while also underscoring the need for additional technical and financial cooperation to ensure a sound response to refugee challenges.

Population trends

The socio-political crisis in Nicaragua in April 2018 resulted in an exponential increase in the number of asylum claims in Costa Rica in 2019, continuing the upward trend in asylum claims since 2015.

By the end of 2019, Costa Rica hosted a total of nearly 6,200 refugees and 87,200 asylum-seekers, 85%, of whom (43,400) had arrived from Nicaragua during the year. There are also significant numbers of Venezuelans (7%) and people from countries in the north of Central America (4%). 
Costa Rica was also a major destination and transit country for migrants travelling as part of mixed movements. 


  • UNHCR provided technical support to assist the Government in streamlining their refugee status determination procedure, which resulted in an increase of the refugee recognition rate for Nicaraguans from 1% to 24%.
  • UNHCR led the interagency rapid response plan to ensure a comprehensive response to the situation of Nicaraguans in Costa Rica, including support to meet basic needs, such as food, shelter and health.
  • UNHCR made its cash-based intervention programme more flexible to provide timely assistance through multipurpose cash grants.
  • UNHCR enhanced registration using the Biometric Identity Management System (BIMS) and conducted participatory assessments to gather key protection information.
  • At the policy level, UNHCR supported Costa Rica’s chapter of the comprehensive protection and solutions framework (MIRPS), including the quantification process for public expenditure and total needs for a comprehensive refugee response.
  • An agreement was concluded with the national social security entity which will ensure that 6,000 people of concern to UNHCR will have health insurance in 2020.

Unmet needs

Despite increased efforts by UNHCR to provide life-saving support, the operation was funded only at 65% by the end of 2019, resulting in a limited capacity to respond to identified needs.
Additional funding would allow UNHCR to:
  • Broaden the network of emergency shelters for asylum-seekers with specific needs, including high-profile political figures, female heads of household and single men. In 2019, over 1,600 heads of household did not have a permanent address (including some 11% who were homeless).
  • Continue to provide technical support to streamline the refugee status determination procedure, reducing backlogs and waiting times. 
  • Increase border monitoring activities at irregular crossing points to ensure the early identification and referral of vulnerable people. 
  • Promote access to rights for and early inclusion of asylum-seekers and refugees, including through increased recognition of identification documents by government officials, potential employers and the national financial system.
  • Consolidate on a long-term basis the full access to health services for people of concern.

Operational Environment

Costa Rica has increasingly become a major asylum destination and transit country for the main refugee situations and people in mixed movements in the Americas. Costa Rica is destination for refugees from Venezuela, the North of Central America, Colombia and most recently Nicaragua. It has also served as transit for Cubans, Haitians, African and Asian nationals going northwards. These growing trends are expected to continue in 2019 and beyond. 
As a multi-year multi-partner (MYMP) strategy and CRRF roll-out country, Costa Rica has played a leading strategic role in establishing a protection and integration space to respond to the regional refugee situations. Costa Rica has progressively reviewed its legal and policy framework on refugee protection to modify the the refugee status determination (RSD) system, include the principle of non-refoulement, safeguards on unlawful entry, and age, gender and diversity (AGD) approaches, as well as to provide asylum-seekers with the right to work after the third month of their asylum claim date.  Protocols have been put in place to ensure protection of unaccompanied and separated children as well as survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, trafficking, and smuggling. Costa Rica’s Administrative Migration Tribunal offers asylum-seekers a second instance on appeal for rejected asylum claims.
Refugees and asylum-seekers in Costa Rica are of mixed socio-economic backgrounds, many of whom have special protection needs that require tailored local integration and assistance interventions.
The country’s legal framework allows asylum-seekers and refugees to access basic needs and services on equal footing as nationals, i.e. national welfare programmes that benefit vulnerable populations living in extreme poverty, access to public education, scholarships and job placement. Despite favorable legal and policy frameworks, Costa Rica continues to face economic challenges and undergoing fiscal reform. This situation could affect the capacity of the government to maintain a sustained response. International cooperation is of paramount importance. 

Key Priorities

In 2019 UNHCR will focus on:
  • Maintaining Field Office in Upala in line with UNHCR´s protection by presence strategy to ensure admission to the territory, prevention from refoulement, effective access to RSD procedures and documentation. 
  • Providing capacity building support to the Migration Authority and the Administrative Migration Tribunal with the deployment of additional adjudicators, administrative staffing, and the leasing of new premises in San Jose. 
  • Strengthening the National Social Welfare Institute (IMAS)’s capacity to ensure eligible humanitarian assistance for people of concern. 
  • Strengthening cash-based interventions to complement other forms of humanitarian assistance to newly arrived eligible asylum-seekers.
  • Strengthening livelihood activities nationwide, including vocational training and job placement activities for Nicaraguans.
Latest contributions
  • 25-NOV-2020
    United States of America

    private donors

  • 24-NOV-2020
  • 23-NOV-2020
    Saudi Arabia

    private donors

  • 19-NOV-2020
  • 18-NOV-2020
  • Japan

    private donors

  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • 17-NOV-2020
    United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

    private donors

  • 16-NOV-2020
  • 13-NOV-2020
    United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

    private donors

  • Hungary
  • United States of America

    private donors

  • 12-NOV-2020
  • Japan

    private donors

  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

    private donors

  • Sweden
  • Spain
  • 11-NOV-2020
  • Argentina
  • 10-NOV-2020
    United States of America

    private donors