Skip to main content
The right not to migrate

In the months following hurricane Mitch, tens of thousands of refugees crossed the border into Costa Rica, a country of only 3.6 million people. Proportionally, it was as if millions of people had suddenly entered the United States. Despite that huge influx, Costa Rica in February granted an immigration amnesty that benefitted not only the hurricane refugees but also other foreigners who had been living in the country since the past decade.

The Consultative Group praised Costa Rica's generosity, noting that it merits recognition and support. In a working group discussion held during the Stockholm meeting and chaired by the director general of the U.N.'s International Organization for Migration, Brunson McKinley, the United States was also recognized for having offered temporary protected status to Honduran and Nicaraguan illegal migrants, which allows them to request work permits and effectively halts deportations during an 18-month period.
Massive migrations are not new in Central America. Over the past few decades millions of its inhabitants sought refuge in foreign countries in order to escape civil strife and economic stagnation. Besides Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States received large numbers of Central Americans seeking asylum or simply a chance to make a living safely.
Nevertheless, the recent surge has taxed Costa Rica's already stretched social programs, since new legal residents are entitled to medical benefits, education and employment opportunities. In order to cope with these increasing demands, Costa Rica presented a $118 million national plan at the Consultative Group meeting. In addition to buttressing social programs to accommodate recent migrants, the plan also seeks to reduce the country's vulnerability to natural disasters, rebuild damaged infrastructure and enhance its process of decentralization.
Costa Rica may well reap some rewards for its goodwill. The Washington Post reported in June that the U.S. Congress had allocated $130 million to help alleviate Central America's refugee problem. Costa Rica, the only country cited by name in that piece of legislation, has applied for $100 million of those funds.
Central America has a particular advantage over other regions of the world where populations have been uprooted. In 1996 it started a series of regional conferences on migration, known as the Puebla Process, which bring together countries of origin, transit and destination of migration flows. In that forum, participants can discuss the issues of migration from their own perspective, easing political tensions and finding solutions to shared problems.
Offering a fresh perspective on the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, the working group on migration convened in Stockholm declared that the main challenge for Central America is for its inhabitants to freely exercise their right not to migrate. This, naturally, calls for the fulfillment of the goals of the reconstruction and transformation plans, providing a fairer distribution of the benefits of development.

Jump back to top