Milena is 16. She lives in Costa Rica with her father, his partner and her two sons. She doesn’t really get along with any of them, but Milena’s father sent for her and made her come to Costa Rica from her home in Colombia when the she began to receive threats from the armed groups there. Milena really misses her grandparents, friends and boyfriend back in Colombia. She often felt alone and completely misunderstood by the family she was living with in this strange new country.

Soon, Milena’s father and Melissa began fighting and decided to separate. Melissa went to the United States, leaving her two sons, and Milena’s father went away, far from the city to work, leaving Melina alone with the boys at home. The oldest boy, who was 17, began sexually harassing Melina, so she decided to leave.

With the little money she had saved, Milena rented a room close to the city center and decided to request asylum on her own. Because she was under 18 years old, the Refugee Office contacted the National Child Protection Institute (PANI) to find her a legal representative. Since Melina couldn’t ask her father, she turned to Tere, the Nicaraguan woman who worked as the housekeeper where she was living and who was a Costa Rican resident. Tere said she would gladly help out Milena and began the paperwork to become her legal representative in order to help her request asylum and remain in Costa Rica.

When the two went to Immigration, they were told to contact ACAI, a NGO that works to implement UNHCR programs in the country. Staff at ACAI were able to explain the process to Milena and provide her economic support. They even helped her return to her studies so that she could finish high school, even though she had left Colombia without her school records. Milena took a placement exam and confirmed that she only needed to complete one more year in order to study.

A few months later, they were able to locate Milena’s father. Because he had already been recognized as a refugee, his status could be extended to Milena. Milena finished her studies and was able to graduate. When she turned 18, ACAI helped her to find work at a uniform company owned by another refugee woman. Milena continues to work there to this day.

Now that she is 20 years old, Milena and her partner rent a house close to the mountains of San José, in Aserrí. They are expecting a baby. Their son will be Costa Rican and they plan to name him LEBEN, which means ‘life’ in German.

We would like to thank Campaign partner organization ACAI for their contributions for this story.

Artwork by Nani Puspasari