Nicaraguans stuck at Costa Rica border after Managua bars re-entry on virus fears

SAN JOSE (Reuters) – Hundreds of Nicaraguans are stuck in limbo between Costa Rica and Nicaragua after their homeland refused to allow them back without proof that they are not infected with the coronavirus, authorities said on Friday.

Nicaraguans have been exiting Costa Rica since Wednesday through the border post of Penas Blancas but about 300 are now stranded, having been barred from entering Nicaragua by its government, Costa Rica’s immigration department said.

Managua is demanding that the Nicaraguans, who are waiting for the impasse to end by the side of a road, show proof that they have taken a coronavirus test in the last 72 hours.

“They are stranded at the Penas Blancas border post, on the Nicaraguan side,” Costa Rica’s Migration Directorate said in a statement.

One Nicaraguan human rights organization put the number of Nicaraguans caught between countries at about 500. Nicaragua’s government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Those trapped were not using an official agreement between Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica to repatriate Nicaraguan citizens through Costa Rica in isolation on buses, according to Raquel Vargas, Costa Rica’s migration chief.

So far some 800 Nicaraguans have been repatriated this way in July.

Costa Rica has criticized Nicaragua for what it has called a lax response to the pandemic, and tightened its border controls.

Many impoverished Nicaraguans live in wealthier Costa Rica, where they can earn higher wages than back home. Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans also fled to Costa Rica after waves of street protests and political violence in 2018.

About 18,000 Nicaraguans have been turned away at the Costa Rican border during the pandemic, say Costa Rican authorities, who worry Nicaraguan citizens are spreading the virus.

About 29% of over 12,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Costa Rica have been foreigners, government data show.

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