• Crisis Severity ?
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Impact ?
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Humanitarian Conditions ?
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Complexity ?
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Access Constraints ?
    No constraints
    Extreme constraints

Key figures

  • 5,197,000 Total population [?]
  • 86,000 People displaced [?]
  • 43,000 People in Need [?]



A minimum of 350,000 Nicaraguans are living in Costa Rica. This number represents 80% of the foreign population in the country. Since 2018, Costa Rica has received at least 77,000 refugee applications from Nicaraguans that were fleeing violence and persecution. Numbers remain ambiguous, as many enter Costa Rica via informal routes to avoid police at border crossings. Despite migration policies that provide the rights to work and education while applications are processed, the growing number of asylum seekers in Costa Rica has put the system under strain, and the implementation of these policies remains challenging. Especially among northern Costa Rican communities near the border with Nicaragua, few resources are available to shelter and provide food to new asylum seekers. ? 

During 2021, more than 22,000 Nicaraguans have submitted an asylum application to the Costa Rican Government. This number is higher than the one observed during the whole of 2018, when protests against the Government across Nicaragua led to a massive influx of migrants. Since June 2021, the number of migrants has increased considerably because of actions taken by the Nicaraguan Government against opponents in the run-up to the November presidential election.? 

During 2020, 47% of Nicaraguans in Costa Rica were living in poverty. More than three-quarters of them could only eat only once a day, 41% had no stable sources of income, and one-fifth had no secure housing for the next month.? 

Many Nicaraguans stay with relatives in San José, the capital city. The majority lives in La Carpio, an overpopulated shantytown of San José. In this area, access to drinking water is scarce, and housing arrangements and WASH facilities, including the sewage system, are inadequate. There is limited detailed information on the needs of Nicaraguans in Costa Rica during 2021. Overall priorities revolve around the lack of effective access documentation, health services, education, and work. Small, recurring events of xenophobia by the host community are reported.?

Latest Developments


No significant recent humanitarian developments. This crisis is being monitored by our analysis team.


Government crackdown on the opposition and economic uncertainty surrounding the upcoming elections result in a spike in the number of Nicaraguan migrants and asylum seekers with food, health, and protection needs Latest update: 26/10/2021


Highly unlikely Somewhat likely Highly likely


Very low Moderate Major


On 7 November 2021, Nicaragua will elect the president and members of the National Assembly. President Daniel Ortega is running for a fourth term. Since the beginning of June, the Ortega administration has jailed or put under house arrest seven opposition presidential candidates and dozens of political activists and civil society leaders?. Critics of the Government in all realms — businessmen, human rights defenders, students, doctors, journalists, clerics, and NGOs — have faced political persecution?. Of the 55 NGOs that Nicaragua has prohibited over the past three years, 45 were outlawed between June–August 2021?.

The political situation also creates economic uncertainty. The possibility that sanctions will be imposed on the country raises concerns?. The US said it would not recognise the outcome of the elections, and the EU expressed concerns over the process being undemocratic?. There are fears that some financial institutions will stop issuing funds to the Nicaraguan Government after the election, given that political instability could reduce the collateral available for loans. Political uncertainty already has increased food prices and is likely to affect critical economic sectors, such as mining and banking?. The third wave of COVID-19 appears to have already derailed employment recovery?. Information on COVID-19 is scarce; medical associations have said the Government is preventing the release of accurate information?.

The Government’s actions against opponents and the potential economic consequences of the elections would likely accelerate the deterioration of the population’s living conditions and increase Nicaraguans’ displacement to Costa Rica.


Cross-border displacement of Nicaraguans to Costa Rica peaked between 2018–2019 as a result of the crackdown on the Nicaraguan protests that erupted in April 2018. The largest wave of migrants and asylum seekers came in 2019, one year after the crackdown?. Although Nicaraguan cross-border displacement to Costa Rica has been increasing since 2017, the outcome of the elections and the potential deterioration of the economy could lead to a further rapid rise in the number of migrants and asylum seekers entering Costa Rica, which shares a border of more than 300km with southern Nicaragua and which many Nicaraguans see as a politically and economically stable country. However, Costa Rica’s capacity to provide healthcare and education is limited and was further strained by the number of migrants and asylum seekers from Haiti, Cuba, and some African countries transiting to reach the US, which also has increased this year?.

In 2020, measures taken to contain COVID-19 contracted the Costa Rican economy and caused many migrants to become food-insecure?. New Nicaraguan migrants and asylum seekers in Costa Rica are likely to face similar concerns?. Nicaraguans who face administrative barriers to legally crossing into Costa Rica and cannot obtain visas have been forced to use irregular cross-border movement routes controlled by smugglers and border trafficking networks?. Some of them risk falling into the hands of criminal organisations, likely facing high protection concerns?. On 19 September, Costa Rica announced 15 confirmed malaria cases in La Trocha, a border area with Nicaragua; seven of them were Nicaraguans. An increase in the flow of migrants and asylum seekers also represents a risk of a malaria outbreak in border areas?.

Read this risk

COVID-19 Outbreak


Costa Rica has registered 265,486 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,365 deaths as of 10 May?. The government has shut down schools and several public spaces, reduced working hours and imposed quarantines, and  built a dedicated COVID-19 hospital. Documented status-holders leaving after 25 March were forbidden from re-entering the country and would lose their documents if found entering by irregular means. This puts refugees and asylums seekers, including Nicaraguans, in an uncertain situation. Those in the country have received a two-month extension of their documents and can log new work permit requests, but asylum procedures are currently stalled. Some refugees and migrants are unemployed due to COVID-19 restrictions and are currently in need of assistance. There have been very few new asylum claims at the border with Nicaragua, also due to the presence of Nicaraguan soldiers there.?

Find more information related to the COVID-19 pandemic here.

Key Priorities


Protection: Many asylum seekers are waiting a long time for their documentation, including work permits, to be processed.? Unregistered refugees in Costa Rica face unsafe work opportunities and exploitation in order to provide for their basic needs.

Education: Information is scarce. Some Nicaraguan refugee children are able to access local schools in San José but putting the schools’ capacity under urgent stress.? The number of Nicaraguan children out of school is unknown but expected to be very high.

Information Gaps and Needs

  • Numbers of Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers vary between different reports. Their whereabouts remain mostly unknown. Segregated data by age, gender and disability is not available. 
  • Information about sectoral needs and the severity is lacking.
  • The impact of the refugee influx on the host community is unknown.