CRI figures


Costa Rica hosted 12,100 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2007, 10,100 of them from Colombia. Between 80 and 100 asylum seekers arrived per month during the year.

More than 80 refugees resettled to other countries during 2007, out of nearly 190 submitted for resettlement by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reports of refoulement during 2007, but UNHCR did receive some reports that officials had turned back asylum seekers at the border.

Several asylum seekers suffered extortion, rape, and assault at the hands of traffickers who brought them into the country. Refugees who resettled out of Costa Rica during 2007 suggested Colombian armed groups were operating in the country.

The Governments of Costa Rica and Colombia completed a joint investigation into whether Colombians had received refugee status fraudulently in August. While UNHCR had condemned the investigation at its outset as a breach of the refugees' confidentiality, it agreed that there had been no abuse of information shared during the investigation. During the year, UNHCR provided training in international refugee law to more than 350 Costa Rican immigration officials.

The 2005 Migration Law governed refugees and asylum seekers. Asylum seekers had to present themselves to the General Directorate of Migration (GDM), at which point they received temporary papers and appointments for refugee status determinations within a month. Migration staffers conducted interviews, fingerprinted applicants, and assessed claims, and asylum seekers had to present a passport or another legal identity document, a birth certificate (or sworn statement), criminal record (or sworn statement), and two passport photographs. Of nearly 900 asylum applications made in 2007, Costa Rica granted asylum to 182 refugees. Although the Migration Law required decisions to be complete within three months, many asylum seekers waited nine months or more for decisions, and by late 2007 there was a backlog of some 600 applicants.

Rejected asylum seekers could appeal decisions twice, if they did so within three days of their rejection. The same immigration officials who decided their initial cases heard the first appeals, but officials from the Ministry of Public Security decided second appeals.

Detention/Access to Courts

Costa Rica detained 30 asylum seekers, typically for two to three weeks, for lack of documentation, lack of residence permits, administrative measures, or, in the case of failed applicants, preparation for deportation. The detention center in Hatillo, outside San José, was dirty, poorly ventilated, poorly lit, provided unhealthy food to inmates, and was overcrowded, holding more than 150 people despite a capacity of 100. UNHCR and the government Ombudsman monitored detention conditions, with UNHCR visiting monthly and the Ombudsman preparing annual reports.

Detained asylum seekers could appeal to the courts, but few did so because of the generally short duration of their detention and the complexity of the court system. UNHCR and its implementing partner, ACAI, assisted with appeals, and the Government provided free legal assistance.

Asylum seekers received documents legalizing their status as soon as they approached the GDM. The sheets of paper with attached photos they received did not resemble other Costa Rican identity documents, so while authorities generally accepted them, many Costa Rican citizens did not. Upon receiving status, refugees could obtain an identity document similar to those used by nationals, but at a cost of $48 per year. Since December 2006, the Government waived the need to renew the cards because many refugees could not afford the fee and because of poor quality photos. In July, the Government extended the waiver through May 2008.

Refugees and asylum seekers had access to national courts on par with Costa Ricans.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Costa Rica did not have camps or segregated settlements, and refugees and asylum seekers could live and move freely throughout the country.

Refugees could obtain international travel documents from the GDM by filling out a form, with the only major restriction being that it granted permission to travel to a refugee's country of origin only in emergencies such as the death or illness of a family member. The Government issued 65 during 2007.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Refugees had the right to work, independently or for an employer. Asylum seekers, however, did not. The identity cards issued by the GDM gave refugees access to all jobs, without the need for additional work permits. To practice professions, they had to meet the qualifications of Costa Rican professional associations, which often involved paying fees and obtaining certification of their educational qualifications from their country of origin. ACAI provided assistance in obtaining such documentation for refugees.

In response to complaints that some employers refused to hire refugees because of their nationality or immigration status, UNHCR, ACAI, and the Ministry of Labor formed a program to assist refugees in finding jobs, fighting discrimination, and protecting their rights.

Costa Rican law required employers and refugees to pay their respective shares of the national social insurance tax.

Public Relief and Education

Refugees could obtain health insurance through the national social security program by making monthly payments, which all workers and employers were required to make. The uninsured could obtain medical treatment only in emergencies, for children, or for pregnant women. Asylum seekers could not work, but UNHCR had an agreement with the national public heath service to provide services for asylum seekers.

Although Costa Rican law required free education for all children through grade 9, a study of 168 families found that 3 percent of Colombian children and 11 percent of adolescents were not attending schools.

Costa Rica had no relief programs directly targeting refugees, but they were able to participate in most national programs. Costa Rica's housing subsidy program, however, was available only to nationals and permanent residents. UNHCR operated microcredit programs for refugees, provided childcare, and offered training in computers and English.

During 2007, UNHCR's microcredit program made 175 new loans, benefiting 400 refugee families (approximately 1,400 people), creating jobs for refugees and nationals alike. UNHCR referred roughly 650 refugees to employers for job interviews, helping 115 find jobs.


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