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Miami Activist Aids Nicaraguans Fleeing to Costa Rica

Some Nicaraguans in Miami who have been organizing to aid those opposing President Daniel Ortega are now focusing their efforts on the country's neighbor, Costa Rica.

Dimitri Largaespada, a Nicaraguan activist in Miami who leads "Somos Nicaragua," recently returned from a six-day trip to Costa Rica. He met with Nicaraguans seeking asylum there as well as Costa Rica's Servicio Jesuita Para Migrantes. Together they met with Costa Rican police, immigration officials, and border police and told them not to turn away Nicaraguans crossing the border. 

"We were telling them, 'you cannot send anybody back, please, if you send somebody back, you're sending a dead body.'"

Since April, pro-Ortega forces have unleashed a bloody crackdown on the opposition, killing nearly 450 people. These paramilitaries are targeting those connected to student-led protests that gripped the country the past three months. About 8,000 Nicaraguans have already made official asylum requests in Costa Rica and around 17,000 more have appointments scheduled to officialize their petitions, according to information given to the newspaper La Nación by Costa Rica's Dirección General de Migración and Extranjería. Asylum requests from Nicaraguans have also increased in Panamá, México and the United States, according to a recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees

Largaespada says he saw Nicaraguans who fled to Costa Rica sleeping in the streets and in the Parque La Merced, a square in central San José, the country's capital. As a result, he called officials from Costa Rica's government program that deals with immigrants, and expressed the need for shelters to house Nicaraguan refugees there. 

Costa Rica's Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería has set up two tent camps for Nicaraguan refugees who can't stay with family or pay for housing. One is in the south of the country, along the Cosata Rican border with Panamá. The second shelter, which is newer, is along the Costa Rican border with Nicaragua. According to La Nación, together the two camps can hold a total of 2,000 Nicaraguans. 

Largaespada says he met many refugees experiencing paranoia about being confronted by the armed turbas, or gangs, that they fled.

"One of the ladies that I spoke to, she had been there for about 10 days, she said 'the first three days, I wouldn't talk to anybody, because I was scared that if I would say something, they would like, turn me in,'" Largaespada said.