(TODAY NICARAGUA) Overcrowding, sleeping in the open air, in the sun, in the rain, without access to drinking water and eating thanks to the solidarity of others, more than 500 Nicaraguans are surrounded by an orange barrier that prevents them from returning to Nicaragua and turning back to Costa Rica.
Many left Costa Rica after having lost their jobs or wanting to visit their families, or want to move back to their country after taking refuge in Costa Rica after the socio-political crisis that erupted in Nicaragua in April 2018.
Others were returning home from Panama, also finding themselves without work or resources due to the pandemic that has hit the canal country hardest in the region, with 60,296 cases and 1,294 deaths (July 26)
Others in limbo were turned away by Costa Rican authorities for being in an irregular condition in Costa Rica or having been detected entering from Nicaragua from unauthorized posts.
Once completed their immigration process for leaving Costa Rica, their entry into Nicaragua was denied for not having the required negative test for COVID-19, a requirement that they or few others had heard about.
None had it. They still don’t. And neither were they offered by the Nicaraguan authorities, so they became trapped, between two countries, denied entry into one, their homeland and not being able to return to Costa Rica.
The border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica is not delimited by any wall or physical obstacle, an unmarked line indicated the border between the two countries. Denied entry, the Nicaraguans have been forced to stay in a makeshift camp, divided, one on the Nicaragua side of the line, other on the Costa Rican side.
Thus, from the Costa Rica side, they are accessible to the media, human rights organizations and solidarity groups that have provided some relief with food, water and plastic to put a cover over their head from the scorching Guanacaste sun and heavy rains of the season.
Threatened by Nicaraguan police
Besides facing the elements and the uncertainty of their future, many now prefer not to speak to the media or hide their identity, because they fear retaliation from Nicaraguan police.
They say that if they are seen giving statements, they are verbally threatened, or prohibited from accessing the health service.
The first wave of Nicaraguans, about 110, arrived on Monday. Since, the number grew to more than 500 including seniors, pregnant women and children.
During the week, some 30 people were let through, no one knows why, except for two who had the COVID-19 exam results.
Despite being on their land (officially on the Nicaragua side of the line) they have received no assistance, other than access to a single toilet for 500 people, which they can enter after waiting in line for hours. “When you have to enter the bathroom there is no water to wash, you find urine everywhere and accumulated excrement, but you have to queue to at least relieve yourself indoors,” says “Jessica” (not her real name).
“When I had my menstruation and went three days of not bathing, I went to wash with the water that is available for the sanitary services and I got allergies and an itch all over my body. We spent three days in the sun because the plastic (cover) hadn’t been given to us yet, we were starving for three days because we only came with the passage to Nicaragua,” says a young woman who covers her face with glasses and a blanket, when talking to Confidencial.
“A pregnant woman, we don’t know if she had an abortion or I don’t know what happened, she spent four days with pain and bleeding, they took her passed out,” says “Luis”.
Those affected assure that the Nicaraguan immigration authorities in the area do not provide them details or answers. “They don’t tell us anything. We ask and they just stay quiet. They don’t say anything, they just laugh. That they let us into our houses, we are Nicaraguan,” complains another Nicaraguan.
In the group, some wear face masks but tend to take it off for a while due to the suffocating heat. The physical distance necessary to prevent the spread of coronavirus here is impossible; on the contrary, people are crowded, hiding from the sun under a black plastic hanging as a roof.
The Government of Nicaragua does not provide details of COVID-19 tests carried out in the country, nor has it said whether it will carry out the test on nationals returning from abroad.
The only word from the government recently is that those leaving the country by way of the Managua airport are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result, that can only be done at a Ministry of Health (Minsa) lab and at a cost of US$150 dollars. The tests at a private lab or hospital are not accepted.
Human rights organizations and solidarity groups have been present at the scene to provide food and water. “We have been working with this population for two years now, but this situation is totally appalling, it unbelievable,” says Tanya Amador, director of the Corner of Love organization, which works with Nicaraguan refugees. She brought several boxes of bananas and bottles of water and comments that they prepare hot food to take them in the next few hours.
Nelson Amador, director of the organization, appeals to the Nicaraguan government to carry out the COVID-19 tests on Nicaraguan citizens and thus allow them to pass. “We believe that they have the possibility to do it, what they don’t have is a little bit of will. The Government, especially Mr. (Daniel) Ortega, has to take action on the matter and help its own citizens. It doesn’t have to be a political situation. It is a humanitarian situation.”
To avoid further agglomeration in the Peñas Blancas area, Costa Rican immigration has adopted a new measure: Nicaraguans and other foreigners headed for Nicaragua to have a COVID-19 test. The test can be done at any private lab or hospital, the cost about US$100.
Families wait anxiously
In Nicaragua, the family of the stranded anxiously await information. “It makes me mad that we are so few compared to those inside,” says a woman calling on everyone with family members to reach the border.
According to a report by La Prensa, Saturday night, authorities announced the release of 100 citizens who came from Panama. The bus with these people was crossing Peñas Blancas border line between 12 and 1 in the morning.
At 8.30 am this Sunday, a van carrying a coffin lined with black plastic alerted family members. Some said it was one of the stranded men who had died, but minutes later another version indicated that it was a Nicaraguan who had died in Heredia, Costa Rica.
Several of the stranded discarded that there has been a death. However, due to the crowded and dirty conditions, they were worried about getting sick by Covid-19.
Family members said the stranded made a blockade on the border that prevented the movement of cargo trucks. However, the blockade was lifted after a promise by Nicaraguan authorities, that they would be allowed entry in a few hours.
“It was a lie and now they have them more cordoned off with more riot police,” says Hilda Pineda, who has her two children, a 20-year-old girl and a 24-year-old man, who form the mass of people trapped at the border.