Costa Rica is sometimes criticized for copying the United States too closely and it appears anti-Syrian hysteria is the latest trend to arrive from Uncle Sam.
The daily La Nación reported Thursday that Mariano Figueres, head of Costa Rica’s intelligence service, known as the DIS, requested that immigration authorities waive a criminal background check for a group of eight Syrians in October. Under Costa Rican law, Syrians require a restricted visa that includes a criminal background check before they can travel here.
The waiver request could seem scandalous — except that the Syrians in question were experts invited to participate in an anti-terrorism symposium organized by the DIS, according to government officials. They say the waiver requests were completely above board.
The conference, which was supposed to take place in November, was later canceled because of logistical problems, according to Casa Presidencial. The Syrians’ visas were nullified and they never traveled to Costa Rica.
Casa Presidencial issued a response from DIS chief Figueres Friday defending the request to waive the background checks.
“We need to be careful with this subject so that we don’t fall into the stereotype that anyone who is Syrian is a terrorist,” Figueres said.
Figueres said that DIS verifies the credentials of those for whom it requests expedited visas. When making the request, Figueres told immigration authorities that DIS would be responsible for the Syrian group while they were in Costa Rica.
He told local media that it was not uncommon to request expedited visas for foreigners from countries on a restricted visa list.
“There’s a human tragedy in Syria — including an exodus of already more than a million people — but that’s not to say that despite what happens there we can generalize,” Figueres said in the statement.
This is not the first time in recent months that Syrians traveling, or potentially traveling, to Costa Rica has attracted attention here. A group of five Syrians who traveled through Costa Rica on falsified Greek passports made international news after Honduran authorities detained them on Nov. 18. They were reportedly on their way to the United States. The next day, Costa Rican authorities detained a Syrian woman also traveling with a fake passport.
Authorities said they believed the groups took the same route through Central America en route to the U.S.
Following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, Republican presidential candidates, nearly half of all U.S. governors and many Congressional representatives called for an immediate freeze on all Syrian refugees entering the United States or their home states. The Obama Administration has defended the rigor of its review of refugee applicants who want to resettle in the U.S.