At the end of 2001, Costa Rica hosted about 10,600 refugees. These included approximately 8,100 persons with refugee status and more than 2,500 persons whose asylum claims were pending.
According to the Costa Rican government, the 8,100 recognized refugees included 3,085 Colombians, 2,636 Nicaraguans, 1,054 Cubans, 793 Salvadorans, 233 Peruvians, 138 Guatemalans, 57 Russians, and 122 persons from 18 other countries. Of these, 2,126 Colombians and 112 persons of other nationalities were newly recognized during the year.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Costa Rica rejected the claims of 1,591 asylum seekers during 2001, including 1,545 Colombians. At year's end, the claims of 2,535 asylum seekers (2,411 Colombians and 124 others) were pending. UNHCR facilitated the repatriation of eight Colombians in 2001.
Costa Rica is a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and has written a non-refoulement provision into its constitution. The government's Migration Department for Refugees, which is located within the office of the Director General for Migration and Foreigners, determines asylum claims under the supervision of UNHCR.
Costa Rica permits refugees to work and move freely within the country. It also grants refugees access to the same education and health services available to all Costa Ricans and allows refugees to seek permanent residence after two years. UNHCR provides refugees legal, social, and economic assistance through a local nongovernmental implementing agency.
A large majority 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.
Most Colombian refugees have entered Costa Rica since 1999. They generally adjust well to life in Costa Rica, but according to El Productor, a local nongovernmental organization, some face psychological problems that arise from trauma suffered in Colombia, or from the drop in social and economic status that some experience when moving to Costa Rica.
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 are left 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.