A new report says an increasing number of Central Americans are fleeing south to escape gang violence and seeking asylum in Costa Rica, a dynamic which may be linked to the stepped-up deportations of migrants by the United States.
The number of aslyum seekers entering Costa Rica in 2016 is expected to outpace the 2,203 refugee applications the country received in 2015, the highest figure in years, reported the Tico Times. Refugee applications have been rising since 2013, when authorities received fewer than 1,000. (See the Tico Times' chart below)
According to Costa Rica's Immigration Director, Gladys Jiménez, some 77 percent of the nearly 10,000 refugees currently in Costa Rica are Colombian. Cubans make up the next largest nationality (8 percent), followed by Nicaraguans (6 percent), Venezuelans (3 percent) and Salvadorans (2 percent).
But the proportion of refugees from El Salvador has risen sharply. So far in 2016, Salvadorans make up 46 percent of all refugee applicants, Jiménez said.
Authorities attribute this increase to weak state institutions that are unable to protect Salvadorans from the pervasive gang violence they face in their home country.
"These are people who aren’t being protected," said Carmen Muñoz, Costa Rica's vice minister of the Interior. "The state doesn’t provide them protection from mareros, or other kinds of organized crime," she said, refering to gang members as "mareros."
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The vast majority of Central America's migrants travel to Mexico or the United States in the hopes of escaping gang violence, finding better work, and reconnecting with family members who beat the same path before them.
Nonetheless, the Tico Times report finds a growing number of Central American migrants, especially Salvadorans, are electing to head south rather than make the treacherous journey north.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Displacement
This may well be linked to the increased deportations of Central Americans by the administration of US President Barack Obama, as well as the ramped-up security along Mexico's southern border. Obama has also called on parents not to send their children to the United States, warning of the dangers that they will face along the way and the border agents who will turn them back if they make it that far.
"Do not send your children to the borders,” Obama said on ABC News in January 2014. "If they do make it, they'll get sent back. More importantly, they may not make it."
With lower levels of violence and better job prospects, Costa Rica is a natural destination for Central American migrants dissuaded by the perils of traveling north. For some of these same reasons, however, Costa Rica makes an attractive landing spot for Central American gang members absconding from security pressure back home.