After months of political unrest and state-sponsored violence against protestors, many Nicaraguans are seeking asylum across the southern border in Costa Rica, according to a report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) on Monday.
About 8,000 Nicaraguan refugees have already filed asylum claims since April, and 15,000 more have been given appointments for later dates as Costa Rica can only process so many people every day.
“UNHCR is providing an initial support to the Migration authority to increase its processing capacity from 200 to at least 500 claims daily,” a UNCHR statement said.
Protests erupted in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua on April 18, after the government implemented pension reforms.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega responded by ordering police to open fire on protestors. He withdrew those reforms days later, but the protests have continued over the public’s desire for free elections.
The refugees are fleeing the mass incarceration of those who protest and state-sponsored violence that has left at least 317 dead and more than 2,000 injured according to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
“They [gun-toting paramilitaries] beat me, they put a towel on my face and poured water on me until I felt like I was drowning,” a student, who goes by the name of “Lobo,” told UNHCR. “There was lots of psychological abuse too.”
Costa Rica is one of many countries, along with the U.S., to condemn the human rights violations of the Nicaraguan government.
“Costa Rica expresses its solidarity to Nicaragua and regrets the events that have caused the loss of human lives which harm fundamental aspects related to the dignity and physical security of the people,” said a statement by the Costa Rican Ministry of Foreign Affairs in May.