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More than 100,000 have fled violence in Nicaragua, U.N. report says

More than 100,000 have fled violence in Nicaragua, U.N. report says
Riot police block the passage of a protester in Managua, Nicaragua, on May 2, 2018. File Photo by Jorge Torres/EPA-EFE

March 11 (UPI) -- More than 100,000 citizens of Nicaragua have fled their homeland due to ongoing violence and government persecution that's lasted for nearly two years, a United Nations report says.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in the analysis Tuesday the violence has killed hundreds and injured thousands. A 2018 report said other Nicaraguans in jail were subjected to torture, electric shocks and rape.

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"Serious political and social crises in the country have prompted Nicaraguan students, human rights defenders, journalists and farmers to flee their country at an average rate of 4,000 people every month," UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said.

A government-led crackdown in 2018 killed about 300, and hundreds more were arbitrarily jailed and prosecuted.

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UNHCR chief Michele Bachelet said the initial violence in Nicaragua has subsided and a dialogue between the government and citizens' groups has reduced detentions. She said it's proof that "dialogue is possible" for a "peaceful way to overcome the crisis."

Still, more Nicaraguans continue to flee the country. Reporters covering the funeral of activist Ernesto Cardenal in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua last week were attacked, and local media reported the assailants wore red and black -- symbols of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's ruling Sandinista Party.

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Neighboring Costa Rica has taken in about two-thirds of Nicaraguan refugees so far. Panama, Mexico and some European nations have accepted the rest, Mantoo said. Through the UNHCR, Costa Rica also provides healthcare to the most vulnerable. Earlier this month, the United States sanctioned Nicaragua's national police force for human rights abuses.

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"What we are seeing is a quiet stifling of opposition," said Ivan Briscoe, a program director at the International Crisis Group. "We have seen a steady decline in the number of political prisoners.

"There are something like 60 political prisoners left, compared to hundreds last year. But most of them are under house arrest, which means their cases are still active and if the government wanted to crack down on them, they could."

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