Nicaragua lies on the intercontinental land bridge between the neighbors Honduras and Costa Rica (regional map). The country is divided into 15 provinces (“Departamentos”) and two autonomous regions (map with the provincial borders). A satellite image with zoom can be accessed via Google. The University of Texas library offers a wide variety of relief maps, city maps, and thematic displays.
As one of countries in Central America according to hyperrestaurant, Nicaragua has become a major emigration country since the 1980’s. The main migration destinations are Costa Rica and the USA. Other important emigration destinations are Spain and Panama. The number of Nicaraguans living permanently in Costa Rica is estimated at around 500,000. There is no doubt that the vast majority of them are leaving their country out of economic hardship. The women often work as domestic servants, the men in the banana plantations, in construction or in the service sector. The large contingent of those who cross the border every year with a special permit to harvest coffee and work as pickers is not included in this number. Since the outbreak of protests against the Ortega government in April 2018, an additional 100,000 Nicaraguans have fled to Costa Rica. Although the acceptance of the “nicas” in Costa Rica has improved in recent years,
The number of Nicaraguans living legally and permanently in the USA is given as 464,000 in 2017. Together with the migrants without documents, their number is likely to be significantly higher. Most of them live in the states of Florida (36%), California (29%), and Texas (6%). Central American migrants in the USA are severely affected by the reprisals that the Trump administration is taking against immigrants without valid papers (“indocumentados”). According to official figures from the USA, for example, 113,676 young people from Central America are threatened by the end of the DACA program (“Dreamers”), of which 2,506 come from Nicaragua. The report about a young Nicaraguan in Los Angeles who has been using the program since 2015, explains the context in more detail. In addition, the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) of over 5000 Nicaraguans who came to the USA in 1998 after the disaster of Hurricane Mitch was terminated. Although they have lived in the USA for over 20 years, they must fear their deportation.
According to the organization “Red de Emigrantes” between 1.2 and 1.5 million Nicaraguans have left their country. In any case, emigration has become a social issue of paramount importance. According to a survey by “M&R Consultores” in April 2013, no less than 54% of all Nicaraguans wanted to emigrate if they could. The money transfers from their relatives abroad now reach 25% of all Nicaraguan households (2015). A new study from the organization “NicasMigrante” has proven the great importance of sending money from abroad. On the one hand, many depend on these transfers, on the other hand, many families are torn apart for an indefinite period of time. The fate of the small children, who are inevitably left behind by their mothers, often in the care of their grandmothers, is particularly dramatic. In October 2015, the Servicio Jesuita de Migrantes presented a study that traces the emigration of Nicaraguans from certain villages back to the local effects of climate change.
It is always surprising that the governments of Central America have come to terms with mass migration from their countries. Although they take care of the situation of emigrants in the destination countries on a diplomatic level, they do not develop any perspectives to stop emigration or even to enable their compatriots to return. The Ortega government is no exception.
One explanation for this is the paramount importance of money transfers (“remesas”) from abroad for the economy. According to the central bank, the remesas totaled US $ 1,682.4 million in 2019. This corresponds to an increase of 12.1% compared to the previous year (2018: US $ 1,501.2 million). Since 2011 (US $ 911 million), transfers have risen continuously. Contrary to predictions to the contrary, the remesas seem to continue to increase in the year of the Corona crisis. First analyzes justify this with the fact that the number of migrants to the USA and Spain has grown and the previous senders are sending more money home than before in view of the crisis. According to current information, most of the transfers come from the USA (62.4%) and Spain (15.0%), while Costa Rica (12.5%) and Panama (3.6%) have fallen behind somewhat. The “remesas” represented a share of 13.4% of GDP; their contribution to compensating for Nicaragua’s deficit balance sheet is indispensable. One can therefore say that the labor of migrants is a particularly valuable export good for the country.
In the current crisis since 2018, the number of Nicaraguans seeking refuge abroad is growing. The main destination of the refugees is Costa Rica. According to the UNHCR, 68,000 migrants had sought protection as persecuted persons in the neighboring country by August 2019. A report by UNHCR from September 2019 gives a concrete impression of the fate of many migrants in Costa Rica. Another 20,000 refugees are in Panama, Mexico, the USA and Europe.