A new assistance protocol for Costa Rica

In both Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean, mixed migration flows have posed challenges for reception authorities. Public administrations and civil society actors have had to create new practices and collaborate closer than ever to provide assistance and protection to vulnerable migrant populations. In a normal scenario, this is already challenging, but the COVID-19 pandemic has added a new layer of complexity for migration governance and management, because of restrictions on cross-border movements, the need for repatriation, access to healthcare, or sudden unemployment, to name a few.

After the declaration of a state of national emergency on 24 March 2020, only Costa Ricans and foreigners with regular migratory status and those who had left the country before that date could enter the national territory. This new situation affected migrants who were in transit through Costa Rica, especially Nicaraguan citizens, the largest group by nationality among Costa Rica’s migrant population.

Seeking to respond to these pressing issues, the Directorate General of Migration and Foreigners under the Ministry of Governance and Police and the Ministry of Health of Costa Rica requested support from MIEUX+ to reinforce their capacities to assist migrants.

One of the components of the Costa Rica IV Action is to develop a protocol that will facilitate assistance to asylum seekers and migrant persons entering or transiting the country in vulnerable conditions during an emergency, whether the contingency is due to a sanitary crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic or is caused by the arrival of large mixed migratory flows. Crucially, the protocol will aim to strengthen the cooperation between DGME and the government agencies assisting migrant persons during all types of emergencies.

Peer-to-peer exchange on migration management during the COVID-19 pandemic

In order to draft a well-informed protocol, Activity 2 of the Costa Rica IV Action organised a series of knowledge exchange events in the summer of 2021 with peers from public administrations in Europe and other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the first article of this series, we described several lessons learned and practices shared by the Governments of Greece, Mexico and Peru and the local authority of Lampedusa and Linosa in Italy in terms of managing migratory crises.

The second article of the series focused on public administrations in Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, and Spain, as well as the European External Action Service (EEAS) and how they adapted their practices to a completely different “crisis scenario”, the COVID-19 pandemic.

The third and final article in the series highlights practices shared during the latest webinar ‘Coordination mechanisms for preparedness and management of migration emergencies during the pandemic’ from government agencies in Brazil and Belgium.

As explained by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), coordination of humanitarian response is necessary to expand the reach of humanitarian action, improve prioritisation and reduce duplication, ensuring that assistance and protection reach the people who need it most. In this sense, inter-agency coordination and internal coordination mechanisms, in any type of contingency, are the motor of suitable governmental responses.

Practices from Brazil: Operacion Acogida

Operação Acolhida, a large-scale reception and relocation initiative set up by the Brazilian Federal government to assist the arrival of large volumes of Venezuelan migrants in 2018, is cited as a good practice among LAC countries. By applying a whole-of-government approach, it created a framework for diverse ministries, public administrations and public agencies to provide a common solution to the complex challenges at hand.

After the revision of the existing law that governed assistance to people in need and the declaration of a state of crisis, the Federal Government was able to take on new responsibilities without exceeding its powers. It created the Federal Emergency Assistance Committee under the purview of the Ministry of the Presidency as the main coordination mechanism. It involves eight Ministries (Defence, Citizenship, Justice, Health, Education, Foreign Affairs, Family and Human Rights, Economy and Regional Development, as well as the Institutional Security Cabinet), various international organizations and civil society organizations who participate in four thematic subcommittees.

As highlighted by the representative from the Federal Subcommittee for Relocation, this set-up allowed for the responsibility of assistance to not fall only to institutions traditionally involved in migration issues, it capitalised on the logistical capabilities of the army and provided federal support to local areas particularly affected by the crisis.  This multiagency effort between the federal, state and local levels of government particularly focused on the phases of documentation, reception and relocation to municipalities.

According to UNCHR [link in Spanish], over 50,000 Venezuelans have been resettled since 2018 through this coordination mechanism and 77% of those surveyed had found employment in municipalities throughout Brazil. Nevertheless, limitations to the current setup have arisen recently, given new flows of Haitians and reverse flows of Venezuelans traveling back from Peru are entering into Brazilian territory. 

Practices from Belgium: Fedasil

Just as inter-agency is crucial, institutional capacity to adapt working practices for the preparation and management of migratory emergencies is key to be able to provide response and assistance that matches the necessities of a given emergency. In Belgium, Fedasil is the federal agency that works with civil society organisations to support the reception of asylum seekers under the Secretary of State of Asylum and Migration. Their role entails managing reception facilities for up to 20, 000 asylum seekers, although in recent years they have accommodated up to double this amount given periodic surges in arrivals of asylum seekers.

In order to manage these surges, the Steering Committee of the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers can adapt internal procedures by declaring the State of Crisis. Taking cues from the experience of the migratory crisis in Europe of 2015, they have identified a set of indicators to evaluate whether a situation is putting particular stress on the resources of the institution:

  1. The volume of the flow
  2. The occupancy rate in reception centres above 90%
  3. The well-being of agency staff (workload, stress)
  4. Agency budget to meet demand
  5. Early warning of flows arriving in other European countries
  6. Actions and response of neighbouring countries, such as Germany, Sweden, France, and others
  7. International context and what is happening in countries with an influx of migrants and/or refugees

These tools facilitated the assistance provided during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, and to cope with the arrival of Afghan asylum-seekers in September of 2021. To complement these well-defined indicators, the representative from Fedasil mentioned the importance of the involvement of the political level of the Public Administration in order to mobilise the appropriate resources, ensure the involvement of external agencies, and create appropriate messages for external communication efforts.

Common points – what is needed for effective coordination?

During the three webinars of Activity 2, different public institutions shared a series of practices that emerged during periods of crises. As we have observed through our work over the last decade, public administrations are increasingly relying on the exchange of practices to inspire and learn from one another.

Just as migration is a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon, the coordination mechanisms that seek to rein in these crises must involve a wide range of actors in order to be successful.

Common points

  1. Vertical and horizontal cooperation between government departments and/or ministries, in line with the growing role for local authorities in migration management.

  2. Policy coherence and adaptation to navigate the constraints in the existing legislation.

  3. The need for up-to-date, reliable data and for forecasting capabilities.

  4. Cooperation and active participation of civil society and UN agencies in the management of the reception of newcomers as well the important role of the private sector for socio-economic inclusion.

Related articles

Coping with uncertainty: crisis management and migration in Costa Rica (2/3)

Coping with uncertainty: crisis management and migration in Costa Rica (1/3)