Nicaragua is a Central American nation with a population of more than six million people. While Latin America is not the center of the current refugee crisis, there is a long history of asylum seekers in the region. Here are 10 facts about Nicaraguan refugees.

  1. Many who decide to flee one of Latin America’s many countries attempt to head north to the United States. However, most Nicaraguans who leave their home country head south instead because visas are often cheaper, there’s more work and the pay is good.
  2. The United States has a long history of involvement in the politics of Central and Latin America. Nicaragua is no exception. Because of civil war and a U.S. trade embargo in the 1980s, many Nicaraguans sought refuge at that time.
  3. In 1983, more than 2,400 Nicaraguans were in refugee camps in Costa Rica, and around 1,750 more followed in 1984.
  4. In addition, more than 100,000 undocumented Nicaraguan refugees were likely to have crossed the border into Costa Rica in the 1980s because of the military draft, economic reasons or other dangers.
  5. Today, not many Nicaraguan migrants live in the U.S. compared to migrants of other Central American nationalities. The majority of Nicaraguans in the United States live in Miami and northern California.
  6. Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, and almost half the population lives on less than two dollars a day. However, Nicaragua has a low rate of crime and violence, two large factors in migration.
  7. According to the Huffington Post, polls indicate that more than half of Nicaraguans would prefer to migrate.
  8. Costa Rica is the place to go for Nicaraguan refugees. Costa Rica is close, has no language barrier and the education system is good.
  9. Many Nicaraguans who flee to Costa Rica face discrimination, exclusion and tough legal processes once they arrive.
  10. Nicaraguan refugees make up most of Costa Rica’s immigrants–around 75 percent of Costa Rica’s immigrants are Nicaraguan.

The refugee crisis is not limited to any one region in the world. These 10 facts about Nicaraguan refugees illustrate the need to think about the refugee crisis on a global scale.

Shannon Elder

Photo: Flickr

8 Things to Know About Poverty in El Salvador
El Salvador is the most densely populated country in Central America. After a 12 year civil war and years of unstable leadership, poverty in El Salvador is a concern that greatly affects the over 6 million people living there.

Top 8 Facts on Poverty in El Salvador

Over 25 percent of children below the age of 5 experience extreme poverty in El Salvador and 36 percent of the rural population lives in poverty. Urbanization is a problem developing countries face as cities grow and become a hub for economic, medical and commercial activity. This causes problems for those in rural areas as they have less and less access to resources. Currently, 60.3 percent of citizens live in urban areas, which results in greater poverty for the remaining people outside of cities.

The people of El Salvador are also constantly at risk of facing greater challenges due to natural disasters. World Vision reports that the country “experiences frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity, making it known as the ‘land of volcanoes.” In December of 2013, the Chaparrastique volcano in eastern El Salvador erupted and caused the evacuation of 5,000 people.

Leaf rust has caused problems for the coffee industry in El Salvador, which is an important source of income for the country’s economy. Heavy rain and wind carry rust spores from plantations to other plantations miles away. Bloomberg reports that the 2015 coffee season projections fell from 920,000 to 613,333 60-kilogram bags.

90 percent of the population has access to safe water and 96 percent of children are enrolled in school, though this education may not be effective in preparing children for their future. The U.S. Agency for International Development reports, “Many children and adolescents living in El Salvador face enormous vulnerabilities associated with high rates of crime and gang violence including poor quality education.”

El Salvador has the highest homicide rate in the world for youth under 19, reports USAID. InSight Crime cites progress in El Salvador’s mission to reduce the number of violent deaths to a rate more in line with international statistics. In September of 2016, 13.3 percent fewer homicides occurred than the previous year. USAID launched programs whose focus is to stimulate and increase productivity in areas that are at risk, such as rural populations.

The national strategy entitled Plan El Salvador Seguro “addresses security and education opportunities in high crime municipalities.” The strategy involves programs such as Education for Children and Youth at Risk, as well as USAID Bridges to Employment to care for those who are not enrolled in education but need to provide for themselves and their families.

UNICEF Goodwill ambassador and former professional soccer player David Beckham’s new fund “7” launched a campaign in 2015 to end violence against children and poverty in El Salvador. This program is Beckham’s commitment to improving the lives of vulnerable children globally.

Beckham said, “Every day, violence affects thousands of children and adolescents in El Salvador. It’s an outrage – violence in their homes, schools and streets. El Salvador has the highest rate in the world of homicides of children and adolescents and, together, we can change this.”

Rebecca Causey

Photo: Flickr

San Jose Action Statement
On August 4, Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama and the United States welcomed the San Jose Action Statement. The statement was issued in response to an unprecedented meeting of concerned nations regarding the influx of Central American refugees.

Since 2012, the number of pending asylum cases in the U.S. and Mexico alone has reached over 109,000. In 2014, 66,000 unaccompanied children fleeing Central America entered the U.S. Further, data from 2015 shows the U.S. continuing as the main receiving country, registering almost twice as many asylum applications as in 2014.

Recognizing the need for urgent action and improved institutions to manage the flow of migrants, members of the San Jose Action Statement agreed to responsibility-sharing and regional cooperation. To mitigate the crisis and lessen the plight of refugees, the San Jose Action Statement has three main objectives:

Preventing and Addressing Root Causes of Displacement in and Migration from Countries of Origin

To accomplish this, member states vowed to strengthen coordinated responses, focusing on socio-economic development, access to education and livelihood opportunities, consolidating the rule of law, acting against impunity and operating under a framework that fully respects human rights.

Member states further agreed to monitor internal displacement and migration in order to develop well-informed national and international responses to the refugee crisis. In addition, all parties acknowledged the need to provide protection for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees. These measures aim to minimize the outward flows of migration by creating prosperous, secure lives in home countries.

Enhancing Asylum and Protection Responses in Countries of Transit, Destination and Asylum

All parties to the San Jose Action Statement agreed to provide timely identification and documentation of refugees, as well as unhindered access to documentation processes and protection.

Member states further vowed to improve alternatives to detention and resource provision for refugees, including access to legal aid, psychosocial support and humanitarian assistance. Early integration into receiving communities will also be targeted and strengthened.

Promoting Regional Cooperation

All nine nations agreed to develop a collaborative approach, emphasizing the need for partnerships with other nations, U.N. organizations, international and regional organizations, civil society, academia and other entities. These partnerships will create responsibility-sharing mechanisms in the region, such as legal pathways to admission and humanitarian visas.

This call for action marks an important step in combating the Central American refugee crisis. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk, stated, “The San Jose Action Statement is a visible and significant demonstration of the willingness of countries from the region to work together to address the plight of refugees, internally displaced persons and others in need of protection, in a spirit of solidarity.”

Anna O’Toole

Photo: Flickr

Central American Refugee Crisis
Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, commonly referred to as the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA), have seen drastic increases in the numbers of migrants fleeing to nearby nations, creating the present Central American refugee crisis. Since 2012, pending asylum cases in the U.S. and Mexico have reached 109,800.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), large-scale violence, poverty and unemployment motivate men, women and children to flee. Classifying the increase as a ‘protection crisis,’ the UNHCR recently stated that it is “particularly concerned about the rising numbers of unaccompanied children and women on the run who face forced recruitment into criminal gangs, sexual- and gender-based violence and murder.”

In a study conducted by the UNHCR, 64 percent of the women interviewed included direct threats and attacks by members of criminal armed groups as a primary reason for their flight. These attacks corresponded with increased violence against women and minimal police protection.

In an attempt to escape the violence, Central American refugees and asylum seekers most often flee to the north. Mexico experienced a 164 percent increase in asylum seekers between 2013 and 2015. Currently, the majority of Mexico’s 3,448 refugees arrived from Central America.

Mexico accepts less than one percent of NTCA child refugees, despite their escape from violence. In 2015 alone, Mexico apprehended more than 35,000 Central American migrant children, a 55 percent increase from the year before.

The Human Rights Watch determined that authorities in Mexico often complicate the processes of seeking asylum, forcing thousands of children to return home.

To further complicate the NTCA refugee’s plight, women who flee often face heightened risks. High smuggling fees, rape and extortion threaten women throughout their journey, especially near the U.S.-Mexico border. Despite these obstacles, more than 66,000 unaccompanied children fleeing NTCA countries reached the U.S. in 2014. An additional 66,000 NTCA families entered the U.S. in the same year.

Data from 2015 shows the U.S. continues to be the main country receiving asylum applications from Central America, registering almost twice the number in 2014.

In response to the Central American refugee crisis, the UNHCR has been working with governments and civil society partners in the region to develop heightened refugee screening capacities. They are also aiming to build stronger assistance programs for asylum seekers, including greater reception capacity in neighboring countries.

Asylum Access, an international organization that works with local governments and the UN, helps refugees assert their rights in first countries of refuge. Asylum Access has operated in Ecuador since 2007 and expanded to Panama and Mexico in 2015.

Asylum Access provides Latin American refugees with legal assistance, community legal empowerment and advocates against deportation and arrest. Through establishing the Hospitality Route initiative, Asylum Access Mexico helps refugees from Central America avoid detention, deportation and arrest by providing access to safety and rights.

The UNHCR and Asylum Access are leaders in Central American refugee assistance and resource provision. With programs and policies that provide desperately needed and powerful aid, the Central American refugee crisis and its dangers will hopefully lessen.

Anna O’Toole

Photo: UNHCR

pilot-programsWith the success of the United Nation’s Millennium Developmental Goal to halve the world’s global poverty rate, the more recent Sustainable Developmental Goals ask us to ensure that even if markets fail, disease spreads or natural disasters occur, a true end to poverty can be found.

Although arduous challenges lie ahead in achieving sustained growth, particularly in agriculture for the poorest countries, recent studies on poverty in Latin America suggest that even slight changes in behavior within existing systems can significantly influence change without the implementation of unnecessary, expensive or brand new programs.

According to the World Bank, each of these pilot programs has shared in achieving a sustained impact on their communities:

  1. Within the rural regions of Nicaragua, a program was created to connect business grants and training by encouraging group interactions, along with a place for beneficiaries and local leaders. According to the World Bank, “This small modification had a big impact: it improved aspirations and business performance, increasing non-agricultural income by US$3.30 per capita and the average value of a household’s animal stock by US$12.” While these numbers may seem insignificant at first, upon further examination we find that the additional income attributed to social interactions is upwards of 40%.
  2. In Bogotá, Colombia a study was conducted which examined the influence of stress on future behavior. To conduct this report, the World Bank says, “beneficiaries of a bi-monthly Conditional Cash Transfer program were randomly split into two groups. One group received the full payment as usual twice a month. The other received only two-thirds of the payment twice a month; the last third was put instead into a savings account and disbursed as a lump sum in December, just before children’s school fees were due.”Through this study, it was found that the “save when you need it” approach ultimately was the most effective because it was dispersed during its greatest time of need, which resulted in higher levels of re-enrollment rates within schools.
  3. When investigating how to help individuals in Peru save money, technology was utilized through mobile text messaging, which included sending reminders such as remember to save. “Even more effective, however, was combining the reminder with goal-specific messages like “Remember to save so you reach your own savings goal of $20” – this simple phrase increased savings rates by 16 percent,” states the World Bank.

Although it is complicated to introduce these approaches on a broader level, for now, specifically tailored approaches will help target the poorest of the poor in the World Bank’s endeavors to implement a certain kind of behavior. Every achievement is a step in the right direction towards supporting the World Bank in their aim of defeating poverty by 2030.

Nikki Schaffer

Sources: World Bank 1, World Bank 2, UN
Photo: Flickr

The Population Council, along with partner organizations, created a program entitled Abriendo Oportunidades (Opening Opportunities) in order to support the development of young Mayan girls. To date, it has reached 8,000 young girls.

These young girls often live in more rural, isolated regions where access to school and health services is limited. This particular subset of the population in Guatemala tends to marry early without finishing their education.

Abriendo Oportunidades was designed to connect Mayan girls with mentors and provide them with leadership training and life skills. Locally trained professionals often facilitate the program in community girls’ clubs. Gender-based violence is also discussed in a safe setting to provide young girls with the knowledge and tools to stay safe.

An evaluation of the program in 2007 has demonstrated great success in opening opportunities for Mayan girls. All girls in the program have completed sixth grade, 97 percent of the girls did not become pregnant and 88 percent of the girls were able to open bank accounts. These achievements are important because these girls will have greater opportunities open to them in the future. For example, with financial security and education, they can better plan for the timing of children if they wish to have them later in life.

The program results also reveal a change in the attitudes of these young girls. Over half of the girls now wish to complete university and over 90 percent want to wait until later in life to have children. With greater confidence and leadership, these Mayan girls feel an increase in freedom and respect from their fellow community levels. The confidence these girls now have is one of the most important indicators of success. If young girls believe they can achieve education and important careers, they are more likely to be able to do so.

Abriendo Oportunidades has been adapted for communities in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua. Researchers have also further developed the program to be used with adolescent boys who need to learn just as much about gender-based violence and female empowerment.

Iliana Lang

Sources: The Population Council, CNN
Photo: The Population Council

Central America Approved to Receive $675m of Foreign AidIn a bipartisan move, the United States Senate has pledged to send $675 million in foreign aid to Central America. The aid will be part of the 2016 budget proposal and will target El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

This foreign aid was agreed upon after the United States experienced a surge of undocumented children attempting to enter the United States unaccompanied. Many of the children were attempting to flee drug-related gang violence in their home countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Since last summer an estimate of 68,000 children have entered the United States border with the aid of human smugglers. President Barack Obama declared the large influx of immigrant children entering the United States a “humanitarian crisis.”

The United States was criticized for placing the majority of the children in overcrowded detention centers. Overpopulation of the centers strained budgets and it was often difficult for border security to provide food and medical aid.

As more children kept arriving the United States attempted to find the root cause of the problem to prevent further crossings.

It was discovered that drug-related violence and economic difficulties had increased in Central America. Human traffickers decided to take advantage of the dire conditions in Central America by thriving on the fears of parents. Many who worried that their children would turn to a life of crime with few employment opportunities available or be murdered by gangsters.

Human traffickers spread rumors about sending children abroad to the United States where they would be reunited with parents who were already resided there. For those that did not have parents in the U.S., the gang members convinced several parents that “free” permits were available for the children. The permits would allow them to reside legally and attend school.

As villages were destroyed and children forced to join gangs by force; many parents were left with very little options and often agreed.

Human traffickers had children travel on land from Central America and illegally enter the Mexican border. From there traffickers had the children enter the Rio Grande River Valley to the United States.

It was not uncommon for traffickers to abandon children on the border or on U.S. territory to fend themselves. U.S. reports revealed that the children that did not make it to the United States were either deported from Mexico or human trafficked to other countries.

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson described the arriving Central American children as “hungry, thirsty, exhausted, scared, and vulnerable.”

As the crisis increased President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden argued for a one billion dollar aid plan. Instead, the current $675 million aid plan was agreed upon and Central American governments promised to match the foreign aid.

Unlike previous foreign aid that was used to encourage military spending, the new aid plan would stimulate social and economic conditions.

It was argued that previous American aid in Latin America did not work and that violence only increased. Examples cited were Plan Colombia which invested 81 percent of its budget to military and police aid along with the Merida Initiative which used 78 percent for law enforcement in Mexico. Both aid plans that only saw increases in violence in the places it was trying to help.

Unlike the others, 80 percent of Central American aid will target economic sectors and addressing social issues.

The US Senate hopes that addressing the direct problem will provide Central America with economic development.

Although it did not reach President Obama’s goal of one billion dollars, it is still $125 million more than current aid. In a rare bipartisan move, the United States Senate has pledged to send $675 million in aid to Central America.

For now, the United States will continue reuniting Central American children with American parents. Those without American parents will be put on trial and may be sent back to Central America or receive refugee status. With the aid arriving in 2016, Central Americans hope to no longer have to separate their families by sending their children abroad.

Erendira Jimenez

Sources: WOLA, BBC, DHS, American Progress
Photo: Economist

Rural communities in Central America and the Caribbean make farming and natural resource management decisions under risky and uncertain conditions. Local knowledge systems are proving to be insufficient for the decision-making process, and outside information is not consistently available when farmers need it.

In some cases, local knowledge systems have been disrupted by local politics or imperial intervention. In other cases, new challenges presented by climate change and increased demand for volume and quality require better dissemination of information.

Fortunately, Humidtropics, a CGIAR research program, has stepped up to help poor farm families across the tropics to boost their income through better, integrated agricultural systems’ intensification, while also preserving their land for future generations.

To help bridge this information gap and provide small-scale, rural farmers with necessary, relevant information, scientists with Humidtropics have created four digital libraries with information about sustainable coffee production, sustainable livestock production, Nicaraguan public policies and rural women.

These themes were chosen based on research by partner organizations in the area. Over several years, researchers chose 300-500 books, manuals, technical reports and scientific articles which are publicly available. The resources are organized by year, theme and source to make them easy to use. The information has now been distributed to the computers of the 50 partner organizations in Mesoamerica.

In 2015, Humidtropics hopes to build more digital libraries and to continually refine the information that is included in each.

Currently, the humid tropics are home to 2.9 billion people, the majority of whom are poor farmers. Combined, these farmers have about 3 billion hectares of land, which are critical to local, and global, food supplies, as well as global biodiversity.

Claire Karban

Sources: International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Nicanorte, CGIA
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

President Obama has called it an “urgent humanitarian situation.” The Department of Homeland Security has estimated that 52,000 youth have arrived across the border from Central and South America since October 2013. There are some as young as five, and 74 percent of all illegal youth have been coming from Central America’s Northern Triangle: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Violence, gangs, and economic hardships run rampant throughout this area. According to a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 58 percent of the 400 youth the agency interviewed “had suffered, been threatened or feared serious harm.”

Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world ,with 90.4 people in every 100,000 being murdered. El Salvador has the next highest and Guatemala is fifth. These three countries are also among the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, with 30 percent of Hondurans living on less than two dollars a day.

Officials have told advocates that they expect the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border to reach 74,000 by the end of 2014. “Undocumented migrant youth is not a new challenge,” says Lori Kaplan, President and CEO of the Latin American Youth Center. “What is different about today’s crisis is the magnitude and the visibility.”

The images have been so startling that the President has asked Congress for an additional $1.4 billion to deal with the youth influx by creating a multiagency taskforce, led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

This will go to fund many of the shelters that will be used to house these youth until their parents or guardians can be located. Most stay in these homes awaiting their trials and then ultimately to be deported. If no relatives can be found then they will be turned over to the foster care system.

These are all short term measures for a problem that will only escalate. Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. met with the leaders of the Northern Triangle and Mexico in the hopes that he can quell the recent rumors that the U.S. was relaxing its borders and allowing women with children across.

In a speech he gave to these leaders, he said, “The United States recognizes that a key part of the solution to this problem is to address the root causes of this immigration in the first place. Especially poverty, insecurity and the lack of the rule of law, so the people can stay and thrive in their own communities.”

He went on further to say that American would be donating $255 million dollars to Central America to assist repatriation programs for deportees, improve prosecution of criminal street gang members, and expand youth programs to reduce gang recruitment.

Frederick Wood II

Sources: InterAction, PADF, Mother Jones, New York Times
Photo: Flickr

nicaragua canal
Last year, Nicaragua awarded a Chinese firm a 100-year concession to construct a channel to rival the Panama Canal. Construction for the proposed 178-mile waterway is expected to begin in December, with $50 billion in funding from the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Company, or HKND.

However, Danish NGO Forests of the World has criticized both the Nicaraguan government and the HKND for failing to involve the indigenous residents of the region in the planning process, especially considering in the devastation of the forests and in the mass displacement the project will cause.

According to Forests of the World, the proposed canal will fragment the Rama and Kriol territory, dividing the region into two parts, and will plough through two UNESCO biosphere reserves that include a number of endangered species, including jaguars, great green macaws, tapirs and sea turtles.

Claus Kjaerby, the Central American representative for Forests of the World, has stated that the canal will cause negative impacts on “protected wetlands vital to migratory birds, the Central American biological corridor, destruction of freshwater habitat, deterioration of drinking water reserves and the inevitable pollution of Lake Nicaragua.”

Environmentalists are particularly worried about the traffic that the canal could inevitably bring to Lake Cocibolca. As the largest body of freshwater in Central America, Lake Cocibolca is at high risk of salinization as well as the added maintenance of disposing of excavated dirt. Moreover, the potential seismic activity from nearby active volcanoes is a further concern for the canal.

In addition to hundreds of Nicaraguan farmers protesting the construction, Nicaragua’s indigenous groups have contacted the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights for legal advice, arguing that they will be forced to relocate with little support from the government, which violates Nicaraguan law and international labor standards.

The Nicaraguan government stated that while it did inform the indigenous people of the canal, it did not have any formal discussion regarding the project. The company managing the canal, the Great Inter-Oceanic Canal Commission, has said it would provide landowners with fair compensation.

The government has also alleged that businesses and political leaders considered five different routes before settling on the current route, which they consider to be the least damaging route. Paul Oquist Kelley, executive secretary of the Nicaraguan Grand Canal Commission, stated that the route, despite it not being the cheapest option, was chosen because the path has the lowest environmental and social cost.

The NGO has urged Danish firm Maersk, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, to influence the canal construction to prevent environmental damage and protect indigenous rights.

On the other hand, President Daniel Ortega has indicated that the project would provide enough work to help alleviate poverty in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where poverty affects more than half of the population.

The Panama Canal generates approximately $1 billion in revenue annually to Panama, and a Nicaraguan Canal could generate a similar stream of revenue.

A Nicaraguan Canal would also have several benefits comparable to the Panama Canal, such as in reducing the length of trips. For example, a journey from Los Angeles to New York would have approximately 800 km less to travel. The canal would also be able to accommodate ships up to 250,000 tons, more than double the freight limit of the Panama Canal.

Nonetheless, the lack of discourse between the government and the indigenous people residing in the proposed canal land reveals a troubling lack of transparency and agreement regarding the project.

– William Ying

Sources: The Guardian, The Guardian 2, The Guardian 3, Verdens Skove, Tico Times, Journal of Commerce, LA Times
Photo: Flickr