Costa Rica prepares plan to regularize status of 200,000 mostly Nicaraguan migrants

Migrants, mostly Nicaraguans, sit at a migration facility while waiting for an interview with government officials to request asylum in Costa Rica due to the political situation in their country, in San Jose, Costa Rica January 10, 2022. REUTERS/Mayela Lopez

SAN JOSE (Reuters) - Costa Rica is readying a plan to regularize the status of some 200,000 migrants, largely from the Central American country's northern neighbor Nicaragua, authorities told Reuters on Wednesday.

The plan aims to formally include the migrants in the jobs market and healthcare system, Costa Rica's migration head Marlen Luna told Reuters.

Costa Rican officials are still studying how to implement the plan, which will require a final nod from President Rodrigo Chaves.

An influx of people fleeing Nicaragua saw asylum requests in Costa Rica reach a record 60,000 last year, but migration officials believe this could climb to 80,000 in 2022.

Requests for asylum surged late last year after Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega won a fourth consecutive term in office. Critics have accused his administration of political repression and human rights abuses in the wake of a wave of anti-government protests in 2018.

"We are preparing a plan in response to our inability to handle this extreme number of requests," Luna said, noting the asylum requests would take nine years to process through normal channels.

Costa Rica, one of the most affluent and stable countries in Central America, has called for support from the international community.

Nicaraguan migrants make up some 90% of applications for refugee status in Costa Rica, and represent 11.5% of Costa Rica's 5.2 million inhabitants, according to Chaves.

(Reporting by Alvaro Murillo; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by Jackie Botts and Rosalba O'Brien)

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