Nicaraguan migrants turn to the US Safe Mobility program in search of refuge

Nicaraguan migrants turn to the US Safe Mobility program in search of refuge

Nicaraguan Héctor Rosales emigrated to Costa Rica in 2018 to, he says, protect himself from the government of Daniel Ortega, which harassed him for his work as a journalist. Now, almost six years later, Rosales emigrated to the United States thanks to a government initiative in Washington called Safe Mobility.

Safe Mobility, implemented on June 12, 2023, seeks to facilitate access to legal migration routes for refugees and migrants in South and Central America. The program is supported by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The program is a relatively efficient way for Nicaraguans exiled in Costa Rica to legalize their status, compared to requesting refuge in that neighboring country.

In Costa Rica, asylum applications are stagnant. According to data provided by the Refuge Unit of the General Directorate of Migration and Immigration to the Voice of America, only 4% of refugee requests have been approved. Most of the applicants are Nicaraguan.

Costa Rica alleges that there is an excess of refugee requests in its country and few personnel to attend to the demands.

According to what Rosales told the VOA, The Safe Mobility program offers the opportunity to “legalize all your immigration documents and status.”

“You have one year of refuge and the following year, you have the right to have a residence in the United States. After five years, you have the right to apply for nationality. In legal terms, it is a great opportunity for us Nicaraguans who, unfortunately, We cannot return now to our Nicaragua for political reasons, because there is a dictatorship that imprisons and represses,” Rosales said.

The program allows those who are considered eligible to access a refugee status, and – if approved – a year later people can obtain permanent residence in the United States.

As of April 9 of this year, more than 172,600 people have applied to the Safe Mobility initiative from Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Guatemala, according to official data.

The approximate time for approval of the program is around six months and in less than a year, people declared eligible can travel to the United States, according to estimates provided by migrants. The Safe Mobility program supports air travel to the destination, but is then reimbursed over a period of three years.

Rosales says that his refuge in Costa Rica was approved in 2021, three years after arriving in that country, while in the United States it was expedited.

Other pilot programs for migrants

In addition to the resettlement of refugees in the United States, the North American government provides humanitarian assistance to countries in the region to promote the creation of integration and regularization programs for migrants.

In fiscal years 2021, 2022 and 2023, the US provided more than $6.1 billion in development, economic, security and health assistance in the Western Hemisphere, a State Department spokesperson told the VOA.

Efforts include strengthening access to asylum and regularization in countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Mexico.

“These programs, along with the efforts of partner countries, have provided access to protection and stability to millions of people and have helped reduce irregular migration in the region and to the United States,” the official said.

In Ecuador, for example, IOM and UNHCR, with the support of the US Office of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), provide personnel and technical support to the registration and regularization program. Since it began in August 2022, more than 201,000 people have completed registration, 83,600 have received a temporary residence visa and more than 64,000 have received an identity card.

In Mexico, with support from UNHCR and in coordination with the Government of Mexico, they seek to help refugees find employment, including in Mexican cities with labor shortages throughout the country’s industrial belt, and the program has benefited more than 30,000 refugees.

And in Panama, with funding from PRM and UNHCR, the government opened a new office for its refugee agency in the province of Darién on January 25.

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