Young refugees and Costa Ricans are taking to their airwaves to combat intolerance and xenophobia in the Latin American nation as part of a United Nations-backed initiative.
An armed group threatened to kill her brother eight years ago, prompting Annye’s family to flee Colombia. “If my father did not pay them a specific sum of money, they would kill my brother,” said the refugee, now 16, in a recording studio in the Costa Rican capital, San Jose.
Annye, along with 13 other teenagers, both refugees and Costa Ricans, recorded a series of radio stories – a project of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – targeted at students around the country to give them a better understanding of what it means for a young person to be forced to leave their home country due to violence or persecution.
The participants also had a chance to learn the nuts and bolts of radio production from the Radio Netherlands Training Centre (RNTC).
“With Costa Rican and refugee high school students taking part, we were able to hear two sides of the issue: the perception of young refugees on their life in Costa Rica and the reaction of young local people on the life stories, rights and experiences of refugees,” explained Arturo Meoño, a RNTC producer.
Some 40 per cent of young refugees in Costa Rica say they have been the victims of intolerance or insults from their classmates or teachers, according to a survey conducted by the agency two years ago.
“For UNHCR, it has become crucial to create a tool to combat xenophobia in schools, to inform children about who the refugees are and why they need our support to integrate into this new community,” said Jozef Merkx, the agency’s representative in Costa Rica.
Having children tell their peers about their suffering, it is hoped, will make their stories more relatable and create bonds between young people of different nationalities and backgrounds.
Leidy, 16, talked excitedly about her love of Latin American music, while fellow refugee Karen, 15, complained about unfair stereotypes of refugees. “When somebody gets angry with me, they call me a drug dealer,” she said.
The UNHCR scheme has resulted in an interesting mix of stories and reactions. “Some concentrate on the flight from violence and the challenges of local integration,” said Maria Andrea Araya, a psychologist. “Others prefer to discuss what young refugees in Costa Rica experience in their daily lives.”
Alexander, 15, pointed out that unlike in his native Colombia – where the attitude is “don’t get sick because there is no money to pay for the hospital bill” – education and health care are free in Costa Rica.
The young people’s stories will also be used as part of an education module, currently under development, to counter xenophobia in schools.
They will first be rolled out in April in areas with large migrant and refugee populations, Mr. Merkx said.
Costa Rica currently shelters 12,000 refugees of some 40 nationalities, with more than 80 per cent of them being from Colombia.
The Latin American nation receives approximately 80 asylum-seekers every month, and since 2009, there have been small migratory movements through the country of Africans and Asians trying to reach North America.