LA CRUZ — Yet another migrant crisis for the world: the tiny Central American nation of Costa Rica is now faced with the arrival of thousands of Haitians, many by way of crisis-hit Brazil.
Over the past four months, some 8,500 Haitians have entered the tiny Central American nation, reports La Nación, based in the capital of San José. Approximately 4,500 of the new arrivals are staying in government camps. The others crowd the streets of the northern border crossing with Nicaragua, looking to go further northward.
This is the third refugee emergency to shake Costa Rica this year. In January, some 8,000 Cuban refugees arrived, overwhelming local authorities. And in June, the country experienced an influx of African migrants.
Thousands of Haitians fled their home country in 2010 after the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 150,000 people. Many moved to Brazil and other South American countries. But the ongoing economic and political crisis in Brazil, where more than 40,000 Haitian refugees received asylum, has caused an exodus of Haitian migrants seeking new lives further north — in Central America and, ultimately, the United States.
To improve their chances of gaining asylum, many Haitians use their basic command of French, similar to their native tongue, Haitian Creole, and the dark color of their skin to trick immigration officials into believing they are African. In early August, Costa Rican Foreign Affairs Minister Manuel González claimed that 95% of migrants claiming to be African were actually from Haiti.
La Nación was on hand as one Haitian man, Lima, tried to convince a Costa Rican immigration official that he's from Congo — to no avail: "My family — my wife, my son, and my dad — all are in Brazil," he said, switching to fluent Spanish. "I'm a construction worker. I left the country because there's no work."
Like many of his compatriots, Lima worked on construction sites for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, with Haitians providing cheap labor for massive infrastructure projects. Now that both events have passed and the Brazilian economy continues to nosedive, many Haitians find themselves out of work and in need of a way out.
Thousands of Haitian migrants remain stranded at the northern border, waiting to continue their journey. And Costa Rica, just as it did with the African and Cuban asylum seekers that preceded them, is struggling to find a solution.