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Exile Conditions of Nicaraguan Indigenous and Afro-descendants in Costa Rica

“We are experiencing very difficult situations in exile. We do not have an organization to support us,” said Susana Cuningham

Redacción Confidencial

4 de junio 2024

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The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) visited Costa Rica to verify the situation of indigenous and Afro-descendant people from Nicaragua’s Caribbean Regions, who have been forced to flee to their country due to increased repression and violence in their territories.

The IACHR noted that it is aware of the imposition of parallel governments to traditional authorities in Nicaragua’s Caribbean Regions and “the impact of concessions to private companies on their natural resources,” according to a press release published on May 31, 2024.


The organization explained that the events presented since 2018 in a “historical context of marginalization, exclusion, and exacerbated violence,” result in consequences such as “the forced migration of communities.”

The Commission added that it received information about the severe violence faced by indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples on Nicaragua’s Caribbean Regions, “such as murders, kidnappings, threats, sexual violence, and armed attacks perpetrated by settlers seeking to dispossess them of their ancestral territories.”

The delegation, which worked from May 19 to 21, 2024, in Costa Rica, visited Alajuelita and La Carpio, localities on the outskirts of San Jose, where many Nicaraguan exiles have settled. In these places, the IACHR met with indigenous and Afro-descendants “in situations of human mobility” and with Nicaraguan civil society organizations.

In a state of “resistance”

Susana Marley Cuningham, 65, known as “Big Mama,” is a Miskito and Afro-descendant woman who sought refuge in Costa Rica since 2021. From her small space in La Carpio, where she lives with her children, she received the IACHR delegation to explain the situations exiles face in that country.

She told CONFIDENCIAL that the visit was an “opportunity” to communicate with international organizations defending human rights.

She explained that although most refugees have asylum application documents, many do not have medical insurance. “We have many sick people, and this was communicated to them (IACHR). It was also mentioned that Miskito women face great difficulty finding work due to the language barrier,” she stressed.

Cuningham said they are in a state of “resistance” in Costa Rica.

“We are experiencing very difficult situations in exile. We do not have an organization that supports or protects us. We have had men who have died, and it has been very difficult because they pay for their insurance, but at the time of their death, they were not even given a coffin. So, the situation of exile is very difficult,” she recounted.

The human rights organization calls on States to adopt a regional response “that comprehensively addresses the factors generating forced migration of Nicaraguans and responds to their protection needs.”

This response must include effective access to asylum applications, expedited processing of the procedures, and the implementation of complementary protection measures.

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Appreciation for Costa Rica’s openness

The IACHR expressed in the statement that it values the efforts of the State of Costa Rica to welcome Nicaraguans in situations of human mobility, as well as the implementation of programs to prevent discrimination and xenophobia.

“At the same time, it reiterates its call to ensure the human rights of these individuals, such as the right to seek asylum, without discrimination, and with justice,” it emphasized.

Additionally, they consider it “extremely important” to guarantee economic, social, and cultural rights from the moment people seek refugee status or other forms of international protection.

The Commission said it is aware of the challenges Nicaraguans face in accessing procedures to be granted asylum and finding employment that allows them to enjoy health, education, and housing.

“There is also a need for greater openness and sensitivity, with a differentiated approach concerning vulnerable groups and people with special needs,” it emphasized.

The Commission urged the international community to support Costa Rica in effectively implementing the principles of solidarity and international protection.

The delegation was comprised of members of the Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), led by Commissioner Arif Bulkan, Rapporteur for Nicaragua and for the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Additionally, they were accompanied during field visits by the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights, and the Fundacion del Rio.

It is expected that the information gathered will be included in a report that the IACHR is preparing about violence against indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples in Nicaragua’s Caribbean Regions.

The delegation’s visit included protocol meetings with authorities from the Costa Rican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Vice Ministry of Peace, the Presidential Commissioner for Social Inclusion, the Immigration Office, and the Ministry of Public Security.

This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.

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Redacción Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.

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