QUITO, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Venezuela's government is sponsoring flights to transport migrants living in Ecuador back home, a Venezuelan official said on Tuesday, after the murder of an Ecuadorean woman by a Venezuelan man triggered tighter controls and acts of violence.
The Saturday night killing in the northern city of Ibarra and the ensuing attacks on Venezuelans marked an escalation in migration-related tensions in Ecuador, which like other South American countries has received thousands of the nearly 3 million Venezuelans who have fled economic collapse since 2015.
"Many of the Venezuelans in Ibarra want to go back," said Pedro Sassone, the charge d'affaires at Venezuela's embassy in Ecuador, who said five commercial flights were planned this week to take migrants back. "Venezuelans in Ibarra are being fired from their jobs - that is xenophobia, that is discrimination."
Socialist President Nicolas Maduro's government has for months been promoting a 'Return to the Fatherland' program to bring migrants from around the region back to Venezuela. Venezuelan officials have also argued that emigration statistics are exaggerated to justify intervention by foreign powers.
Sassone said he expected 400 Venezuelan migrants to return from Ecuador, including 40 from Ibarra. A total of 250,000 Venezuelans live in Ecuador, of whom 42 percent have valid work visas, government statistics show.
In response to the murder, Ecuador announced it would begin demanding that Venezuelans seeking entry should present their criminal records at the border, while President Lenin Moreno said he would create "units" to check Venezuelans' legal status "in the streets, in the workplace, and at the border."
Representatives of the Andean country's Venezuelan community said migrants had suffered attacks and threats in the wake of the incident and Moreno's comments. Ecuadorean officials have called on their citizens not to make generalizations about migrants and to refrain from acts of violence.
"This past week has been worse than ever - they look at you badly on the street, you are scared to go outside," said Angelys Lopez, 17, who has worked as a street vendor in Quito for three years but is now hoping for a spot on a plane back to Caracas.
"I am scared to stay in Ecuador - that is why I am returning to my country."
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia Writing by Luc Cohen, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)
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