GENEVA – More than 60,000 people fled the socio-political crisis in Nicaragua during the past year, with the majority seeking shelter in neighboring Costa Rica, the United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday.
Elizabeth Trossell, UNHCR spokeswoman, gave details on the political crisis in the Central American nation during a press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
“A year into Nicaragua’s political and social crisis, an estimated 62,000 people have fled to neighboring countries, with the vast majority, some 55,500 seeking refuge in Costa Rica,” she said.
“Many, in what is overwhelmingly a refugee flow, have resorted to irregular crossings to avoid detection, often walking for hours through difficult terrain, exposed to heat, humidity and the risk of malaria.
“Initially, it was mainly adults crossing the border but families, including young children, are also now fleeing.”
She said Costa Rican authorities have reported that around 29,500 had officially filed for asylum by March 29, while another 26,000 were waiting for claims to be processed.
“Among those seeking asylum are students, former public officials, opposition figures, journalists, doctors, human rights defenders and farmers,” Trossell said.
“A significant number arrive in need of health care, psychological support, shelter and food assistance.”
The UNCHR said it was providing support to the Costa Rican government to help deal with the number of asylum seekers crossing the border.
The current unrest in Nicaragua spiraled into a wider crisis in April when demonstrators across the country came out to protest against social security and tax reforms proposed by the president, Daniel Ortega.
Although the leadership scrapped the plans, the opposition continued to protest.
Ortega declared the protests illegal and clamped down demonstrators.
The UN has condemned government violence against protesters while the European Union has called on Ortega to slate early elections.
Nicaragua’s severe crisis has left 325 dead since April, according to the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Some local humanitarian groups put the number killed since the anti-government demonstrations began at 561.
The government only recognizes 199 deaths and says it was the target of a coup attempt by right-wing opponents.