• 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

  • 77,000 People displaced [?]
  • 39,000 People in Need [?]



Since April 2018, a minimum of 86,000 Nicaraguans fled violence and persecution and sought refuge in Costa Rica. 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 to education while applications are processed, the growing number of asylum seekers in Costa Rica has put its system under strain and the implementation of these policies remain challenging. Especially in northern Costa Rican communities near the border with Nicaragua, few resources are available to shelter and provide food to new asylum seekers. ?

According to UNHCR, 53,000 Nicaraguans have begun the process of applying for refugee status in the country as of November 2019. Detailed information is lacking, but at least 50% of the registered Nicaraguans have been identified as requiring special protection and assistance, including legal protection concerns as well as urgent health support. Many Nicaraguans stay with relatives in San José. The majority lives in La Carpio, an overpopulated shantytown of San José, where access to drinking water is scarce and housing arrangements and WASH facilities, including the sewage system, are inadequate.? Priority needs overall evolve around the lack of effective access documentation, health services, education, and work. Small recurring events of xenophobia by the host community are reported. ?

INFORM measures Costa Rica’s risk of humanitarian crisis and disaster for 2019 to be low at 2.9/10; hazard and exposure at 3.8/10 but lack of coping capacity only at 2.7/10. ?

Latest Developments


Since 20 September, Costa Rica has experienced a exponential increase in COVID-19 cases, likely straining the country’s already weak healthcare system. Nicaraguan migrants and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable due to limited access to healthcare and increased levels of xenophobia.?

ACAPS' team is daily monitoring the impact of COVID-19. Find more information related to the outbreak here.

COVID-19 Outbreak


Costa Rica has registered 801 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 7 deaths as of 12 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.