NEW YORK (Reuters) - More than 100 illegal immigrants are entering the small Central American country of Costa Rica every day, looking for “coyotes” to take them across the Nicaraguan border and on toward the United States, President Luis Solis said on Friday.
Eighty-five percent of the new arrivals are from Haiti by way of Brazil, where many settled after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake but whose construction jobs have disappeared now that the Rio Olympics are over and the country wallows in recession, Solis said on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
“The phenomenon has shifted quite significantly,” Solis said.
His government has set up centers that offer the migrants basic shelter and food, before they take the day-long bus trip through Costa Rica to the Nicaraguan frontier. Nicaragua does not allow the migrants to enter, so they are forced into the world of “coyotes,” or illegal guides, often linked to criminal gangs.
Solis said the 15 percent of arrivals who are not Haitians are Cubans as well as Africans and Asians who make their way across the Atlantic to Brazil and then trudge through Colombia and Panama to get to Costa Rica.
“Migration is a global phenomenon and it is not new. But something unexpected is happening, a refurbished flow of migrants is on the move in Latin America,” Solis said.
So far, Solis said, Costa Rica can handle the inflow and outflow of immigrants passing through the country.
The United States, however, responding to a surge in Haitian immigrants, will end special protections for them dating back to the devastating 2010 earthquake, the Department of Homeland Security said on Thursday.
“What if they start deciding to stay on Costa Rica after hearing that the United States has changed its tolerance policy and is going to start deporting them?” Solis said. “That’s a concern.”
More than 5,000 Haitians have entered the United States without visas this fiscal year through Oct. 1, according to Department of Homeland Security officials, up from 339 in fiscal year 2015.
Panama’s president, Juan Carlos Varela, said this week that Haiti’s economy and democracy must be fortified in order to stanch the rapid outflow of people from the impoverished island nation.
In February, Michel Martelly stepped down as president of Haiti without a successor. New elections are scheduled for Oct. 9.
Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Leslie Adler