• 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

  • 5,365,000 Total population [?]
  • 180,000 People displaced [?]
  • 180,000 People in Need [?]



By March 2022, at least of 150,000 Nicaraguans refugees and asylum seekers are living in Costa Rica. The total number of migrants remains 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.

Update from the October 2021 Risk Analysis



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

A deterioration in the humanitarian situation followed election results and the new presidential mandate in Nicaragua. Prior to the elections, the Nicaraguan Government imprisoned more than 36 opposition leaders, seven of whom were presidential candidates, and several other human rights defenders.? By 2022, at least 25 NGOs have ceased to operate, constraining humanitarian access.? In 2021, between 144,000–170,000 Nicaraguans migrated, the highest number since the sociopolitical crisis started in 2018.?

By early 2022, 350,000 refugees and asylum seekers (or 85% of the migrant population) were living in Costa Rica.?As anticipated, 2021 had the highest number (approximately 53,000) of asylum requests from Nicaraguans in Costa Rica.?Nicaraguan migration to Costa Rica started increasing in the months before the elections, driven by fear and threats from the Ortega regime.? Only about 11% of asylum seekers aimed to avoid reprisals from the Nicaraguan Government.?Nicaraguans in Costa Rica continue to face xenophobia and violence.?

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.

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.

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.