San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Immigration

Syrian woman detained with false passport seeks refugee status in Costa Rica

It’s not Germany but the “Switzerland of Central America” will have to do. A 30-year old Syrian mother of two detained with a stolen Greek passport last month has requested refugee status in Costa Rica, according to her lawyer, Miguel Gutiérrez.

Gutiérrez told The Tico Times that his client was the victim of human trafficking at the time of her detention and that he would consider filing a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. over her treatment by Costa Rican law enforcement.

The woman from Damascus — who Gutiérrez asked not be identified because of possible repercussions from the alleged human smuggling network — caught the attention of Costa Rican and international media on the heels of terrorist attacks in Paris and the detention of five Syrian men in Honduras traveling on similar fake passports. She traveled to Costa Rica on Nov. 17 after passing through several South American countries, her lawyer said, before being detained on Nov. 19.

Gutiérrez said the Syrian woman requested refugee status soon after she was detained by Costa Rican police. Because she was found with a falsified passport, the Prosector’s Office requested preventive detention for her at the Buen Pastor women’s prison in Desamparados until Jan. 20. Gutiérrez appealed her detention and filed a writ of habeas corpus with the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court this week in an attempt to get her released from jail.

Her lawyer said that she always intended to reach Germany, not the United States, unlike the five Syrian men arrested in Honduras. Once in Germany with refugee status, she planned to bring her two young children there, Gutiérrez said. He said the children were in a third country outside Syria but did not specify where.

But the smuggling network took the woman to the Americas instead.

“Her objective was to reach a European country, Germany, to claim refugee status but she was taken here instead,” Gutiérrez said. “They didn’t give her an itinerary. They told her to get on the plane and from there on, they controlled everything.

“It was not the ideal way to enter the country but that’s the only thing she’s accused of doing wrong,” he said, adding that she was at the mercy of the smuggling network. “She didn’t mean to offend anyone and means no one harm.”

Gutiérrez said he was considering filing a complaint against Costa Rican authorities with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for how they handled her initial detention, calling it a “show.”

“It was totally irrational. She was a woman, alone, without prior convictions, not dangerous,” he said, “We’re not talking about a criminal. We’re talking about a woman.”

Public Security Ministry spokesman Jesús Ureña told The Tico Times that the ministry had yet to receive a complaint about the woman’s treatment.
“We respect the judicial system here and [Miguel Gutiérrez’s] right to file a complaint,” Ureña said, but could not comment further until an official complaint had been received.

Syrians have to obtain a restricted visa to enter Costa Rica which requires a criminal background check, among other security measures. Earlier this year, President Luis Guillermo Solís appeared hesitant about accepting Syrian refugees but announced that the government would accept refugee applications. According to figures from the Immigration Administration only one person from Syria has requested refugee status here during the first 10 months of the year.

There are more than 4.3 million registered Syrian refugees fleeing that country’s nearly five-year civil war, according to figures from the U.N. High Commission on Refugees.

Gutiérrez said he thinks the local media coverage surrounding his client’s case has been tinged with xenophobia and that she is simply trying to find her way to a better life for her family.

While Gutiérrez accused the media and law enforcement of jumping to conclusions about his client, he said she was grateful for her treatment by staff at El Buen Pastor. Staff there have allowed her to pray and use a headscarf per her religious expression as a Muslim, he said, and have treated her well.

Contact Zach Dyer at zdyer@ticotimes.net

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