|GENEVA, April 17, 2019 -- 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, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR said Tuesday.
UNHCR spokesperson Elizabeth Throssell, at a UN briefing here, cited the Costa Rican Migration Authority saying that, as of March 2019, some 29,500 Nicaraguans had formally filed asylum applications.
"Many, in what is overwhelmingly a refugee flow, have resorted to irregular crossings to avoid detection, often walking for hours through difficult terrain," said Throssell.
With reception capacity overstretched, 26,000 others are waiting to have their claims formalized, said the UN agency.
A significant number arrive in need of health care, psychological support, shelter, and food assistance.
UNHCR commended Costa Rica's efforts to enable people to enter its territory and access its asylum procedure, noting significant pressure on the asylum system and local communities.
The refugee agency said that without a political solution to the crisis in Nicaragua, "people are likely to continue to flee."
UNHCR said funds are urgently needed to strengthen its humanitarian response "to allow asylum-seekers in dire need of assistance to access aid, instead of having to resort to informal jobs to pay for rents and food at rates beyond their reach."
Nicaragua has experienced political instability since April last year, when police shot rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd of protesters against social security reforms.