September 19, 2019 / 10:03 PM / a month ago

Peru deports 150 Venezuelans in crackdown on illegal crossings

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru deported 150 Venezuelans for entering the country illegally as authorities sought to enforce stricter policies for migrants from the crisis-stricken nation, Peru’s immigration office said on Thursday.

The immigrants were detained this week in a coastal desert region at Peru’s northern border with Ecuador, part of a route taken by hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who have migrated to Peru, Chile and Argentina in recent years to escape hyperinflation and shortages of basic food and medicine at home.

Authorities barred the migrants from entering Peru for 15 years and left them in Ecuador, the office said in a statement.

The announcement followed several days of local TV coverage of a gruesome murder involving Venezuelan gang members, fuelling concerns about crime, a top priority for most Peruvians.

False rumours have also been circulating in audio messages on WhatsApp and social media posts that Venezuelans were trying to kidnap children. Peru’s interior minister ruled out any truth to the rumours and warned against “xenophobic” practices.

Peru was once one of the most welcoming countries for Venezuelan migrants, granting them temporary residency so they could work and access public services. But as the number of Venezuelans in Peru has climbed to more than 850,000, fanning concerns about crime, jobs and social services, Peru cut the residency program short and toughened entry requirements.

Earlier this month, the government said that a new visa requirement for Venezuelans that it imposed in June had led to a 90% drop in legal entries and that authorities would beef up security to prevent illegal crossings.

Peru, Chile and Ecuador now require visas and hard-to-get passports from Venezuelan nationals. Colombia, home to the largest Venezuelan population outside Venezuela, continues to allow them to enter without visas.

Venezuela’s economic collapse and political crisis under President Nicolas Maduro has unleashed the biggest migratory crisis in recent Latin American history.

The Venezuelan diaspora could double to 8 million by the end of 2020, the Organization of American States (OAS) said in June.

Many Venezuelans in recent waves of migrants are trying to join family members.

Reporting By Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; Editing by Alistair Bell

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