Costa Rican consulate workers in Nicaragua could not answer press questions this week – they were too busy filing thousands of daily visa applications.
The number of would-be immigrants from Nicaragua inundating consulates in Chinandega, Managua and Rivas averages 5,000 a day, according to a report in Costa Rican daily La Nación.
What the report failed to mention, however, say migration experts, is that this is exactly what has occurred every Christmas and Easter in recent years.
So has the more than 55,000-strong exodus, according to newswire EFE, seen crossing Costa Rica’s northern border into Nicaragua over the holiday season.
“The problem with people lining up at the Costa Rican consulates in Nicaragua is not new,” said Daniel Redondo, who oversees legal affairs and human rights issues at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Costa Rica.
Nicaraguan press portrayed a different picture this week, with a headline in Wednesday’s daily El Nuevo Diario “Nicaraguans Suffer Hunger and Mistreatment in Costa Rica,” citing surprise detentions of longtime Nicaraguans here for lack of documentation among the abuses.
Redondo decried the news media’s continual focus on the negative aspects of Nicaraguan migration.
Both nations, he said, share a mutual need. “Costa Rican construction firms, for example, need these workers. In Nicaragua they need work,” said Redondo.
The problem, he said, is “regularization,” referring to legal work and residence permits. Redondo and the migration organization are carrying out a co-development project between Costa Rica and Nicaragua to provide legal entry for temporary Nicaraguan workers in agriculture, service industries and construction here, where labor is needed, as well as helping to facilitate visas.
“In many cases, Nicaraguans don’t have the necessary paperwork to emigrate, such as passports or even birth certificates,” Redondo said.
Meanwhile, as understaffed industries prepared for more incoming permit-carrying migrants, law enforcement officials continued last week to rid the country of undocumented Nicaraguans.
Police reported sending 1,700 undocumented Nicas back across the border in just two days.
Apparently, more Nicaraguans returned to Tico soil than had joined the holiday exodus back to their homeland.
Last Thursday and Friday, police detained hundreds of people who managed to enter the country illegally, slipping across borders at Peñas Blancas, Guanacaste, in Costa Rica’s northwestern corner, and Upala and Los Chiles, in the northern province of Alajuela.
In one operation Friday afternoon, police rounded up 52 undocumented Nica migrants and sent them by boat from Sarapiquí, a north-central canton, to Los Chiles, according to the Public Security Ministry.
Fernando Berrocal, the Costa Rican public security minister, was compelled to defend the arrests amid questions as to whether deporting manpower was in his country’s best interest.
“We are grateful for the contributions to Costa Rican development from our brothers and sisters of the neighboring nation to the north,” Berrocal told La Nación. “But all those who wish to come here to work should do so obeying the law.”
About 250,000 Nica migrants live in Costa Rica by law, according to Redondo. But the real figure of Nicas here, he added, is not known. “We don’t think it reaches 1 million,” he said, referring to a common figure tossed about by media and politicians alike.
“The media plays an important role, but it should focus less on the xenophobia and confrontation of the migration issue.”