Costa Rica saw an “unprecedented” migratory flow into the country this year, with tens of thousands of mainly Cubans, Haitians and Africans seeking passage to the United States.
Communications Minister Mauricio Herrera said in a statement that “more than 26,000 irregular migrants entered the country” from the southern border with Panama. Most of them arrived this year, though up to 8,000 were Cubans who became stranded in Costa Rica in late 2015 when neighboring Nicaragua closed its border to them.
Costa Rica eventually organized flights in early 2016 to let them skip over Nicaragua and make their way to the U.S. border, although it took months to resolve additional Cuban migrant flows.
Since then, the biggest flow has been that of Haitians, along with smaller numbers of Africans.
Many of them also face difficulties trying to get through Nicaragua, staying in shelters and camps in northern Costa Rica while turning to people-smugglers for help to cross the border. They are been given temporary visas, but no right to work.
“This could have been the biggest migratory crisis in the country, but it was an opportunity for Costa Rica to show the world its vocation in defending human rights,” Herrera said.
As The Tico Times reported earlier this year, the vastness of South America’s jungles and mountains disperses the flow of migrants from around the world across a wide area, but the Central American isthmus is a bottleneck. Thoughout the year, Costa Rica found itself playing the unwanted role of host to thousands of people hoping to pass through on their way north.