Peru declares emergency at border as Venezuelans flee crisis at home

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

In a decree published in the government’s official gazette, 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. It didn’t give any 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 of migrants.

There are close to one 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.

‘Humiliation and cruel treatment’

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.

Eduardo Sevilla, Peru’s migration superintendent, attends a news conference on Tuesday where Peruvian and Columbian officials agreed to share information about migrants in an effort to track arrivals and fairly distribute aid. (Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters)

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 home country.

Brazil said earlier this month that the migration wave had sparked measles outbreaks in neighbouring countries, including in Brazil where the disease had been considered eradicated.

New measures slow influx

Colombia and Peru will share information about migrants in a database, in an effort to track arrivals and fairly distribute aid, the two countries said. The countries invited others affected by Venezuelan migration to join the initiative.

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.

Venezuelan migrants walk along the shoulder of the Pan-American Highway on their way to Lima, Peru, on Sunday after crossing the country’s border with Ecuador. (Martin Mejia/Associated Press)

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.

CBC | World News

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