Costa Rica receives an increasing number of refugee requests from Nicaragua. Repression in the country has accentuated since a social unrest in 2018.
In Costa Rica, refugee applications from Nicaragua in 2021 have never been so high since their national immigration authorities record them.
Costa Rica, whose entire northern land border is shared with Nicaragua, received 53,000 refugee applications from Nicaraguans last year, 68% more than in 2019.
Nicaraguans account for two thirds of temporary and permanent foreign residents living in Costa Rica. There were 368,000 of them in 2020 in a country of 5 million people.
They also account for approximately 80% of refugee requests filed in Costa Rica. There were 23,000 applications from Nicaraguans in 2018 and 31,600 in 2019.
Applications particularly increased in the second half of 2021, ahead of Nicaragua's presidential elections in November.
Increase in refugees because of presidential elections and repression
In November 2021, Nicaragua's president was elected for a fourth consecutive term after elections that the European Union or the United States considered as rigged. Months before, President Daniel Ortega got rid of his main political opponents.
Oppression started to intensify in 2018 after major street protests against pension cuts erupted during spring, leading to 328 deaths according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
In 2019, 31,600 Nicaraguans requested refuge in Costa Rica, 37% more than the year before.
Last year, Ortega further tightened the grip with a dozen repressive laws, forcing numerous journalists into exile, but refugee applications overall decreased during the pandemic (fewer than 13,000 applications across all nationalities).
For Daquer Hernandez, deputy director of Costa Rica's migration agency, "it is the largest number of refugee applications (of Nicaraguans) that we have received in history".
Only in the 1980s would there be so many requests but authorities didn't keep records at that time, deputy director said. He referred to a period of turmoil in Nicaragua.
Amid the Cold War, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, a socialist party supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba, overthrew Nicaragua's dictator in 1979 and later fought against a U.S.-backed counter-revolution group from 1981 to 1989.
Current president Daniel Ortega, a leader of the Sandinista front, was already head of state between 1985 and 1990.