December 18, 2019 / 12:47 AM / 2 months ago

Costa Rica calls for aid, grappling with spike in Nicaraguan refugees

(Reuters) - Costa Rica’s president on Tuesday requested urgent international aid for refugees in the small Central American nation, which has taken in tens of thousands of people from Nicaragua after a political crisis triggered months of violent protests.

Demonstrations erupted in April 2018, when Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega tried to cut welfare benefits, and gradually spread into a broader protest movement against his rule.

Rights groups say the conflict has led to the killings of more than 300 people at the hands of police or armed government-affiliated groups.

Nicaraguans have made up the “vast majority” of refugee applications in Costa Rica over the past year and a half, Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado said at the Global Refugee Forum held by the UN Refugee Agency in Geneva.

He added that Nicaraguan refugees were expected to keep arriving.

“We came to request cooperation to guarantee that the refugee population can access their rights,” Alvarado said.

Since April 2018, when protests in Nicaragua broke out, Costa Rica has received 77,000 refugee applications, according to Alvarado’s office. Since September of this year alone, Costa Rica has received 10,000 requests.

The Organization of American States said last month that Nicaragua was experiencing a “critical human rights situation” and recommended a special session of its general assembly be convened to review affairs in the country.

Last week, the United States government imposed sanctions on Ortega’s son, accusing him of money laundering and corruption.

Reporting by Alvaro Murillo in San Jose; Editing by Shri Navaratnam

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