Serve the people stranded on the road

Children from Nicaragua watch a movie in the ILCO offices. Photo: ILCO
Children from Nicaragua watch a movie in the ILCO offices. The transit shelter gives families a place to stay for a week, together with some basic support and advice on the asylum process. Photo: ILCO

Costa Rica church supports Nicaraguans fleeing conflict

(LWI) - With a transit shelter in the Costa Rican capital of San José, the Lutheran Costa Rican Church (ILCO) is supporting refugees who have fled the civil unrest in neighboring Nicaragua. In a small shelter supported by funding from The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the church  assists with food, clothing, cleaning supplies, medication and pastoral care.

The civil unrest in Nicaragua has caused many people to flee south. Costa Rica has kept its borders open and receives about 200 applications for asylum per day. According to the Costa Rican government, some three thousand people are entering Costa Rica every week.

Our work derives from the evangelical mandate to serve the people who have been stranded on the side of the road. (Lk 10: 25-37). Many people continue to come to our church and the doors will remain open to accommodate as many as possible.
Gilberto Quesada, pastor president ILCO

Open the doors

“Our idea was to open our doors and offer what little help we can, like a place to stay, meals and pastoral care to people who are tired and scared,” Gilberto Quesada, pastor president of ILCO, says. “Our work derives from the evangelical mandate to serve the people who have been stranded on the side of the road. (Lk 10: 25-37),” he adds. “Many people continue to come to our church and the doors will remain open to accommodate as many as possible.”

The church also offers guidance on starting the asylum process in Costa Rica - which offices to contact and which procedure to follow. The information so far has been spread among the refugees via word of mouth, even though space is limited: 3 families of 3-5 people can be accommodated for a week, after they usually move on to other parts of the country, either to work or to apply for asylum. The project is planned to run until December, when the church will evaluate recent developments to see which kind of support would be needed in the future.

Commitment to migrants from the North

Currently, pastor president Quesada needs support in equipping the shelter. The LWF support ensures there are enough blankets, beds and food available, that someone will cook for and welcome the new arrivals. The money will buy food and basic medication. “We hope to be able to welcome 64 families until the end of the year,” Quesada says. “This way, we would have helped 265 people.”

ILCO has been supporting migrant women and children with a project since 2017.

According to the International Organization for Migration, Costa Rica hosts the highest number of migrants in Latin America, accounting for seven percent of its population of 4.8 million people. Nicaraguans make up 75 percent of the migrants, as they cross the border seeking work mainly in the agricultural and construction sectors as well as domestic work. The current unrest in Nicaragua has caused a new wave of political refugees. LWF together with other organizations has been calling for peace in the country.