GENEVA -- About 1 million Nicaraguans have emigrated to neighboring Costa Rica seeking a better life due to the dire poverty and lack of jobs in their own country, according to the International Organization for Migration.
With a population of 5.6 million inhabitants - more than half of them under 18 - with an annual growth of 2.7 percent, Nicaragua, the second-poorest country in the Americas, "is facing a tremendous challenge to overcome its poverty," IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said Friday in Geneva.
That challenge, he said, particularly affects women, since a quarter of Nicaraguan households are headed by women.
The spokesman cited Capt. Lenin Flores, head of a busy post on the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border, who said that the Nicaraguan emigrants "are not criminals," but people "risking everything to find work and a better life," even though they do it without the required documents.
Chauzy also pointed to the case of 18-year-old Juanita, who traveled a long, hard road to cross the border illegally with her husband and children, and said that "wages are low and we have two kids, we just can't manage that way."
In the last 30 years, Nicaraguan emigration has been spurred by natural disasters, political conflicts and economic hardship.
Costa Rica, meanwhile, has become a magnet for people without professional qualifications thanks to the abundant job market in sectors less attractive to the native population - above all in agriculture, construction and domestic service.
Though there are no exact figures, it is estimated that 250,000 Nicaraguans reside permanently in Costa Rica, while a similar number stay in the country only as long as their temporary jobs last. EFE