Peace Brigades International has launched an accompaniment project for Nicaraguan organizations, social groups and individual human rights defenders exiled in Costa Rica. The project seeks to accompany those who have been forced to leave their country due to the escalated political violence but who maintain links with Nicaraguan human rights movements and hope to return once conditions improve.
This is a new and temporary project that aims to offer support for the construction of strategies for organizational and community strengthening and protection, from a peace building approach, and with a psychosocial and gender perspective.
The project seeks to address the mental health impacts that displacement causes, whilst also encouraging the building of networks and trust between defenders in similar situations. Coupled with protection and security workshops, PBI hope this approach will help this community to remain active, denouncing human rights abuse in Nicaragua, despite finding themselves outside the context.
On March 11, The Guardian reported, “More than 100,000 people have fled persecution in Nicaragua, with numbers set to rise, two years after the country was plunged into social and economic crisis, the UN’s refugee agency warned.”
That article adds, “Costa Rica, Nicaragua’s neighbour, has received the majority of refugees and asylum-seekers, taking in two-thirds, or 77,000 people. A further 8,000 have fled to Panama and 9,000 have gone to Europe while Mexico is sheltering 3,600 Nicaraguans. In all, 103,600 are seeking refuge globally.”
In September 2019, the Associated Press had reported, [The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights] said 20% of Nicaraguans in exile are students who took part in protests; 23% are human rights defenders or leaders of social and rural movements; and 18% are people who helped demonstrators with food, medicine and safe houses. Others are doctors, journalists and former soldiers or police who refused to participate in the crackdown.”
Part of this crisis has its roots in protests that began in April 2018.
At that time, Reuters reported, “Thousands of Nicaraguans took to the streets in protest over controversial changes to social security that will increase worker and employer payments and reduce future pensions.”
A year later, Amnesty International noted, “President Ortega’s government is continuing its strategy of repression and human rights violations, despite the many calls from international organizations and the determined efforts of civil society to find a swift solution that upholds the rights of the population.”
Life is challenging for Nicaraguan exiles in Costa Rica
The Associated Press reports, “Some formerly middle-class citizens are having trouble putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads, while others from the working class are reduced to living in near-indigence.”
The New York Times has highlighted, “Most Nicaraguans who have crossed into Costa Rica since the spring  have moved in with relatives or friends. Others have ended up in de facto shelters set up in cheap hotels, some in San José’s red light district, their rooms paid for by religious groups and other community-based organizations. And still others have slept in parks and on the street or have been taken in by private citizens.”
Earlier this week, the Havana Times reported, “Francisca Ramirez, one of the most recognized leaders of Nicaragua’s social movements, had to leave the country [in September 2018]. …Upon reaching Costa Rica, Ramirez encountered a humanitarian crisis among the Nicaraguans who had fled due to the crisis.” AP notes, “[Ramirez is] often mentioned in the same breath with murdered Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres.”
The New York Times has also noted, “Nicaraguan leaders of the street protests, who are among the most wanted by the Ortega administration, have sought sanctuary in safe houses. They fear that the Nicaraguan government has sent spies to Costa Rica to hunt down protesters in exile.”
The Human Rights Collective Nicaragua Never Again notes that those who were detained in Nicaragua experienced “sexual violations, suffocation with plastic bags, beatings and kicks, electric shocks, cigarette burns, use of ‘Russian roulette’ and sustained verbal abuse.”
And the BBC has reported, “The huge increase in asylum seekers has not gone unnoticed among Costa Ricans and some have taken to the streets in protest. [In August 2018] about 500 marched into Parque de la Merced, a park in San José frequented by Nicaraguans. Waving Costa Rican flags, they shouted ‘Nicaraguans out’ and physically threatened some refugees. It was Costa Rica's first anti-foreigner rally in modern times…”
While this new PBI project is based in Costa Rica, PBI has previously worked in Nicaragua.
As noted on our website, “In September 1983, 10 PBI volunteers maintained a short presence in Jalapa, close to the Honduran border, interposing themselves between US-backed contras and the Sandinista forces in order to deter hostilities. This initial PBI work was taken over and continued by Witness for Peace.”