Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2018, 15:01 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Costa Rica

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Costa Rica , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

As of December 30, 2000, Costa Rica hosted some 7,300 refugees. These included 6,243 persons with refugee status (3,265 Nicaraguans, 1,023 Cubans, 867 Salvadorans, and 548 Colombians, along with 540 others of various nationalities) and 1,089 persons of various nationalities whose asylum claims were pending at year's end. An unknown number of Colombians also lived in Costa Rica in refugee-like circumstances.

Costa Rica is a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and has written a nonrefoulement provision into its constitution. The government's Migration Department for Refugees (MDR), which is located within the office of the Director General for Migration and Foreigners, handles refugee issues. It determines asylum claims under the supervision of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In 2000, the MDR received 1,686 asylum applications. It granted refugee status to 532 persons and rejected 58 persons' claims. Costa Rica normally decides asylum applications within days of considering them, but in 2000, as the number of asylum seekers escalated, delays arose that led many asylum seekers to wait nearly three months for asylum interviews.

Costa Rica permits refugees to work and move freely within Costa Rica. It also grants refugees access to the same education and health services available to all Costa Ricans and allows them to seek permanent residence after two years as refugees.


At the beginning of 2000, Costa Rica hosted 109 Colombian refugees. During 2000, 1,456 of the 1,686 persons who applied for asylum in Costa Rica were Colombians; likewise, 439 of the 534 asylum applicants whose claims the MDR approved during the year were Colombians. At year's end, 548 Colombians had refugee status in Colombia. The asylum claims of nearly 1,000 others were pending.

Most Colombian refugees adjust well to life in Costa Rica. According to El Productor, a local nongovernmental organization, the main problems Colombian refugees face are psychological and arise from the violent experiences suffered in Colombia (see Colombia), or from the drop in social and economic status that some experience when moving to Costa Rica.

The Colombians who apply for asylum in Costa Rica are not the only Colombians who move there because of violence in Colombia. Some Colombians enter Costa Rica with resident or business visas; others enter as tourists and later remain without documentation. (Costa Rica is one of the few countries that does not require Colombians to have entry visas.) Some do not apply for asylum because they are unfamiliar with the system. Others fear that, despite the high asylum approval rate, they may be denied asylum and deported. Yet others do not want to be identified as Colombians because some Costa Ricans associate Colombians with narcotrafficking while also blaming them and other foreign groups for increased crime in Costa Rica. Although the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) cannot determine the number of Colombians in these situations, it considers them to be living in refugee-like circumstances.

Other Refugees

Most of the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran refugees in Costa Rica have been in the country for many years but have not yet applied for permanent residence. On four occasions since the early 1990s, Costa Rica has declared amnesties that have permitted more than 150,000 undocumented persons, mostly Nicaraguans, to obtain legal residence. In 2000, Costa Rica granted 21 former refugees citizenship and 55 others permanent residence.

Many of the non-Latin American refugees come to Costa Rica by accident. Some pay traffickers to take them from other countries to the United States, but the traffickers leave them in Costa Rica instead. According to the UNHCR office in Costa Rica, largely because of language barriers, many members of these groups have difficulty finding work and surviving locally, so UNHCR often extends financial assistance to them beyond its usual three-month limit.

Search Refworld