Peru declares emergency at border as Venezuelans flee crisis at home

by Reuters
Tuesday, 28 August 2018 21:29 GMT

Venezuelan migrant rests at a temporary shelter in Tumbes, Peru August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Douglas Juarez

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Top immigration officials from Peru, Colombia and Brazil have been meeting in Bogota for a two day summit to discuss how to cope with the influx

(Updates with Venezuelan repatriation)

LIMA, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Peru on Tuesday declared a health emergency at its northern border as thousands of Venezuelans, fleeing economic crisis and hunger at home, continued to stream into the country despite tightening entry requirements.

Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra declared a 60-day emergency in two provinces on Peru's northern border, citing "imminent danger" to health and sanitation due to immigration. The decree, published in the government's official gazette, did not give more details on the risks.

The exodus of Venezuelans to other South American countries is building toward a "crisis moment" comparable to events involving refugees in the Mediterranean, the United Nations said this week.

Top immigration officials from Peru, Colombia and Brazil have been meeting in Colombian capital Bogota for a two day summit to discuss how to cope with the influx.

There are close to 1 million Venezuelans now living in Colombia and more than 400,000 in Peru, the countries said in a joint statement on Tuesday after the meeting. Just 178,000 of those in Peru have legal permission to stay or are being processed.

The Venezuelan government of socialist President Nicolas Maduro has warned migrants they face difficult conditions abroad and invited them to return home. On Tuesday, it said it had repatriated 89 citizens who had migrated to Peru but sought to return after suffering "humiliation and cruel treatment."

The group had approached the Venezuelan embassy in Lima to seek repatriation and was flown back to Venezuela on state-run airline Conviasa, the government said.

Oscar Perez, an activist who works with Venezuelan migrants in Peru, said the repatriation was a publicity stunt by the Venezuelan government.

"The return of Venezuelans is part of a well orchestrated show by Nicolas Maduro," Perez said on Monday via Twitter.

An official at Peru's Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the repatriation, saying the country was focused on regional solutions to address the situation.

Health authorities in Peru have previously expressed concerns about the spread of diseases such as measles and malaria from the migrants, many of whom lacked access to basic medicine and health care in their homeland.

Colombia and Peru said on Tuesday they will share information about migrants in a database, in an effort to track arrivals and fairly distribute aid.

This month, Peru and Ecuador began requiring passports instead of national ID cards from Venezuelan migrants. Peru has also tightened deadlines for Venezuelans to sign up for a temporary residency card that lets them work in the country legally.

On Saturday, the first day Peru imposed its passport rule, the number of Venezuelan migrants entering the country fell by more than half to 1,630, according to Peru's immigration agency. But hundreds more without passports entered the country by seeking asylum.

Foreign ministers from Ecuador and Colombia, and possibly Peru and Brazil, will meet to discuss Venezuelan migration in Ecuador next week, said Christian Kruger, the head of Colombia's migration agency.

(Reporting By Mitra Taj in Lima, Additional Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota and Vivian Sequera in Caracas, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

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