Press Release

IACHR Expresses Deep Concern regarding Situation of Cuban Migrants on the Costa Rica-Nicaragua Border

December 8, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern regarding the extremely vulnerable situation being faced by Cuban migrants who are on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, on the Costa Rican side, since Nicaraguan security forces barred their passage through Nicaragua on their way to the United States.

According to publicly reported information, since mid-November of this year there has been an increase in the thousands of Cuban migrants entering Costa Rica through Paso Canoas, on the border between Costa Rica and Panama. In response to this situation, Costa Rica’s National Immigration Council reported that it would grant a special transit visa to Cuban migrants in Costa Rican territory so that they could be in the country legally. Costa Rican authorities report that increasing numbers of Cuban migrants continue to arrive in Costa Rica. As of December 2, it was reported that there were already nearly 4,500 Cuban migrants in Costa Rican territory. According to the information available, the migrants expressed their intention to continue on to Nicaragua and the rest of Central America until reaching the United States. Many of them expressed their need to reunite with their relatives in the United States.

On November 15, 2015, in response to the massive arrival of Cuban migrants at the border crossing of Peñas Blancas, the Nicaraguan State militarized the border and ordered that Cuban migrants be prohibited from entering Nicaragua. According to publicly available information, Nicaraguan troops used tear gas to repel a group of about 800 Cubans trying to cross into Nicaragua. Some migrants reported physical mistreatment and threats on the part of Nicaraguan security forces. According to the Office of the Ombudsman of Costa Rica, a group of Cuban migrants said they had entered Nicaraguan territory and had had contact with public officials who had told them they would take them to Managua to stamp a transit visa into their passports. However, the migrants indicated that this had not happened; rather, they had been forced to return to Costa Rica. Since then, the stranded migrants have had to remain in shelters that have been set up on the Costa Rican side of the border.

In this context, the IACHR welcomes the Costa Rican State’s decision to grant special transit visas to the Cuban migrants so that they can be in the country legally. The IACHR also recognizes the importance of the actions and meetings being organized by Costa Rica to work in conjunction with other States in the region to agree upon a series of measures to facilitate the safe, orderly, and documented transit of Cuban migrants toward the United States. The IACHR also takes note of the meeting held on November 30 between delegations of the United States of America and Cuba, which included discussions of the recent trend of Cuban migration toward the United States, migrant smuggling, and the security situation of thousands of Cuban migrants in transit through Central America.

Commissioner Felipe González, the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, said, “The situation of the thousands of Cuban migrants who are stranded on Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua without being able to continue their journey toward the United States is extremely troubling. At the Commission, we have closely monitored the situation regarding the routes used by migrants through Central America and Mexico, and we have ample information on the dangers to which migrants are exposed when they are not allowed to migrate legally. Not allowing these individuals to transit only creates a situation of potential risk, because as a result they may be forced to turn to remote, clandestine routes.”

The IACHR reiterates that States have the obligation to respect and guarantee the human rights of all migrants within their jurisdiction. While States are entitled to control their borders, establish the requirements for entry and stay within their territory and the grounds for deporting non-nationals, and in general establish their immigration policies, the immigration policies, laws, and practices they implement must be respectful of and protect the human rights of all migrants, who are right holders by virtue of their human dignity. These rights and freedoms have been widely recognized in international human rights treaties.

The Commission urges the Nicaraguan State, in keeping with its international human rights obligations, to investigate the alleged abuses of Cuban migrants by Nicaraguan authorities. Moreover, to prevent a recurrence of these types of events, the Commission urges the Nicaraguan authorities to implement, as part of the training it provides its authorities, ongoing programs on the human rights of migrants, as well as guidelines on use of force and the principle of non-discrimination. Given the mixed nature of migratory movements in the region, the Commission reiterates the importance that States adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the principle of non-refoulement, which necessarily means that people may not be rejected at the border or expelled without an adequate and individualized examination of their situations; the absolute prohibition of collective expulsions; and the obligation to adopt special measures for the differentiated treatment of vulnerable populations of migrants.

The IACHR urges the State of Cuba to not place obstacles for the persons who want to leave the country. In addition, the IACHR urges the States that are along the routes being used by Cuban migrants to reach the United States—in this case, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, and the United States—to adopt any measures that may be necessary to guarantee the human rights of the Cuban migrants who are within their respective jurisdictions, and specifically to allow these individuals to migrate legally and safely. It also urges these States to adopt the necessary measures to prevent and punish abuses that State authorities and private individuals may inflict on the migrants.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 146/15