The massive protests in Nicaragua, which began in April of 2018, has led to a humanitarian crisis. Thousands of Nicaraguans have left the country, the majority fleeing to neighboring Costa Rica. Civil unrest, hunger and COVID-19 have contributed to several issues that Nicaraguan refugees are facing. Organizations have dedicated efforts to assist with the humanitarian crisis in Central America and help Nicaraguan refugees.
The Ortega Regime
In April 2018, Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, announced pension cuts for his citizens. Following the announcement, many people marched in protest, with elderly and university students filling the streets of multiple Nicaraguan cities. The protesters demanded the pension cuts to be canceled and requested an end to the years of corruption committed by the Ortega regime. The protestors were met with violence, with more than 300 dead and thousands injured or missing. Journalists covering the anti-government protests were harassed and attacked by authorities, ultimately silencing the free press. The government has been accused of using “weapons of war” on its citizens and committing human rights violations. Consequently, the political unrest has created a push factor for migration out of the country.
The most popular destination for migration was neighboring Costa Rica, where two-thirds of Nicaraguan refugees have fled to. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNCHR), 81,000 Nicaraguans have applied for asylum in Costa Rica. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has further decimated the well-being of Nicaraguan refugees. COVID-19 has created a negative economic impact for many migrants. The UNCHR found that 14% of Nicaraguan refugees eat once a day or less. Moreover, many Nicaraguans have lost steady income, increasing the chances of falling deeper into poverty.
UNCHR Assists Nicaraguan Refugees
To handle the influx of refugees into Costa Rica, the country needed assistance from NGOs. In February 2020, the UNCHR granted Costa Rica $4.1 million, to ensure the well-being of Nicaraguan refugees. Furthermore, the UNCHR grant pays for legal assistance and civil organizations that help migrants. As much as 53% of the heads of households had no health insurance, but with the help of the UNCHR, around 6,000 now have medical insurance through the Costa Rican Social Security System.
The IFRC Provides Relief to Refugees
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is also actively partaking to help Nicaraguan refugees. The IFRC’s mission is to “meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people”. Moreover, the IFRC is the largest humanitarian organization in the world. It assists displaced people around the world with humanitarian needs such as healthcare. Francesco Rocca, president of the IFRC, called the migration crisis during a pandemic a “catastrophe.” Furthermore, Rocca has called the attention of government officials to take care of the most vulnerable asylum seekers because they are negatively impacted by COVID-19.
Corner of Love
The pandemic has made the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border restrictive, making it harder for migrants to cross. Additionally, the pandemic has created more uncertainty for the futures of Nicaraguan refugees. Despite these struggles, many NGOs are not giving up on this vulnerable population. For instance, the NGO Corner of Love has set up new headquarters near the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border to assist migrants. Corner of Love ensures migrants have access to food and hygiene products, thus contributing to the well-being of Nicaraguan refugees.
– Andy Calderon