RISING numbers of Haitians in Costa Rica could be the result of trickery by “coyotes” – people paid to help others cross borders illegally. The Costa Rican chapter of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) suspects coyotes, considered human traffickers, of convincing their clients to seek refugee status by lying about being persecuted in Haiti.
“The phenomenon is visible and these are very vulnerable cases,” UNHCR spokesman Giovanni Monge told the daily La Nación. “We highly suspect that there’s a network of human trafficking in Panama – they cross the border to Costa Rica, go to Immigration and sometimes tell the same stories to seek refugee status,” he said.
In 2005, Immigration received 100 petitions for refugee status from Haitians, but only five were awarded the status because the others could not prove a well-founded fear of persecution, the fundamental prerequisite for receiving such a status.
While their immigration status is determined, these Haitians work as street vendors in downtown San José, most selling potato chips and toasted plantains, and live in small, rented rooms. The UNHCR and Immigration authorities, which work together with the refugee population and refuge seekers, suspect coyotes charge Haitians up to $3,000 to bring them to Costa Rica, though it is assumed their final destination is the United States.
Of Haiti’s 8.3 million people, 80% live in poverty and an estimated 70% are unemployed. The average life span is 52 years and infant mortality is 103 per 1,000.
In Costa Rica, there are 16 Haitian refugees, one Haitian granted political asylum, five temporary residents and 54 permanent residents. Many of them have stayed in Costa Rica by marrying Costa Rican women.