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A Venezuelan migrant stand for a photo at a migration checkpoint before the deadline on new regulations that demand passports from migrants in Tumbes, Peru, Martin Mejia via PA

Venezuelans rush to Peru to beat passport deadline as mass exodus continues

Local churches have been handing out food to the weary and hungry migrants as they wait.

VENEZUELANS CONTINUED TO surge out of their country today, joining the 7.5% of the population that has already fled a deepening economic crisis, as regional governments struggled to cope with one of the biggest exoduses in Latin American history.

The wave of Venezuelan migration has accelerated in recent days amid new restrictions imposed by some of Venezuela’s overwhelmed neighbors, sparking a warning from the United Nations.

Migrants were dashing to get into Peru before it tightens border controls at midnight. Venezuelans arriving after that deadline will be required to produce a passport, where an ID card had previously sufficed.

“It remains critical that any new measures continue to allow those in need of international protection to access safety and seek asylum,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Thursday in a statement issued jointly with the International Organization of Migration in Geneva.

Ecuador — where close to half a million people have fled this year alone — imposed a passport requirement only last week.

The UN said up to 4,000 people were arriving daily in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Brazil, where migrants have been violently turned back by locals concerned by increasing crime.

The new passport rules threatened to leave tens of thousands stranded in Ecuador and Colombia, exacerbating problems there.

Ecuador will host a 13-nation regional summit next month to discuss the worsening exodus.

That nation’s foreign ministry said Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Paraguay, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela have been invited to the September 17-18 meeting in Quito.

Lines at Peruvian border

In Tumbes, on the Peruvian side of the border with Ecuador, lines of people waited to have their papers checked, sweating in the tropical climate in an area known for its banana plantations.

Only around half of the Venezuelans heading south to escape poverty and economic crisis are carrying passports, according to Colombia’s migration director, Christian Kruger. The other half have ID cards.

Peru has also been struggling to cope. Earlier this month, a record 5,100 people entered the country in a single day.

Peru Venezuela Migration Crisis Venezuelan migrants walk on the Pan-American Highway after crossing the border into Peru. Martin Mejia Martin Mejia

Peru’s migration superintendent, Eduardo Sevilla, said on Thursday that “there are already 400,000″ Venezuelans in the country and if they continue arriving at the same rate, there will be “half a million by the beginning of November.”

Many queueing at the border left Venezuela on foot weeks ago. They’ve already traveled 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), but those who get through face another 1,200-kilometer journey to the Peruvian capital Lima.

Local churches have been handing out food to the weary and hungry migrants as they wait.

Meanwhile, Peru has called for calm, saying the number of Venezuelans affected by the new policy will be relatively minor.

“No one’s talking about the closing of borders,” said Interior Minister Mauro Medina.

He said Peru is improving its “migration control for reasons of order and security,” adding that “80%  of Venezuelans who come into the country do so with a passport.”

Kruger criticized the measures announced by Colombia’s two southern neighbors, admitting he was “worried about the consequences.”

“Asking for a passport isn’t going to stop migration, because they’re leaving their country not out of choice but out of necessity,” he said.

The UN says more than 2.3 million of Venezuela’s 30.6 million population have fled the country since the current crisis began in 2014, a staggering 7.5%.

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