Some of the major challenges in Costa Rica are violence, xenophobia and discrimination. Costa Rica is the country in Central America with the largest proportion of refugees, mainly coming from Colombia. Others come from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and even Cuba or Venezuela. Young refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, as well as, their local counterparts are facing major risks and have become vulnerable to violence. In Costa Rica, RET promotes the development of these vulnerable young people through their improved participation and integration in the formal education system. In addition, we provide comprehensive support and livelihood training for young women heads of households, which in turn allows them to protect their families as a whole, again applying our holistic approach to programme design and implementation.
The Crisis Affecting Costa Rica
Its Impact on Young People
How RET Protects Them
1. The Crisis Affecting Costa Rica
Perhaps the most persistent and pervasive challenges for Costa Rica are violence, xenophobia and discrimination. These are complex phenomena, which are present in all aspects of life in the country.
The indicators of violence in Costa Rica have been rising for two decades. In 2015, the press regularly reported that the most densely populated zones of the country have essentially been transformed into battle zones for gangs linked to drug trafficking fighting over territory.
The phenomena of xenophobia and discrimination are particularly strong as Costa Rica is the country in Central America with the highest percentage of refugees. In 2013, UNHCR reported that over 12’700 refugees were living in Costa Rica, a majority of which came from Colombia. This is accompanied by an important migration from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela and Honduras as asylum seekers.
The causes of this displacement are multiple, but among the most important are the armed conflicts that have disrupted the region throughout the 20th century. In addition, the drug trade and forced migration going through Costa Rica to reach the United Stated has been increasing.
2. Its Impact on Young People
In Costa Rica the risks for young people, may they be migrants or locals, are increasing. All are exposed to school violence, gangs, drug trafficking and criminality. Even if recruitment into these groups and activities is not systematic, the fact that young people in Costa Rica experience many difficulties in entering the labour market exacerbates this risk.
Young people often drop out of formal education, as they do not see it lead to meaningful opportunities. Furthermore, approximately 4’000 young migrants have not had access to formal education.
Young people live with the pressure to produce sufficiently to support their family, which creates a vicious cycle of low education and high vulnerability. This situation puts this population at risk and creates negative stereotypes such as linking them to criminality, thus fomenting xenophobia.
According to the latest census of 2011, 19% of the population between ages 12 and 24 are neither working nor studying. Only 12% of young people complete their secondary education.
Another important issue that affects young people is bullying. This phenomenon happens in schools, as well as, on social networks and websites. These manifestations of violence are essentially directed towards adolescent girls and foreigners, which makes them the most vulnerable groups.
In 2013, the population aged between 15 and 35 passed the bar of 1.8 million and are among those with the highest social risk. At the same time, they represent a huge potential for positive change within communities.
3. How RET Protects Them
RET works with young people of local communities, as well as migrants and refugees. We aim to promote their participation and develop their capacities allowing them to prepare their futures and be actors of positive social change in their communities.
RET does this through the integration of vulnerable young people in the educational system and improving the interaction with their peers and their participation in decisions that affect them.
In close collaboration with local authorities RET builds the capacities that allow the needs of vulnerable young people to be met. One of the priorities is to provide support to young mothers heads of households by teaching them to manage and develop their livelihoods and strengthen their resolve through psychosocial support. This allows them to, in turn, protect their families.
Strategic alliances with civil society organisations and educational centres at the secondary and tertiary level allows RET to work on key issues for youth in the country: access to formal education, guaranteeing the rights of young people, gender equality, prevention of violence, discrimination and more.
In Costa Rica and in the region, RET understands that in order to protect young people our strategy has to be holistic. Young people have to have access to education and be integrated, however, for this to be sustainable, the basic needs of the family also have to be addressed.