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Colombia, Peru, Ecuador seek aid to cope with Venezuelan migrants

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LIMA (Reuters) – Colombia, Peru and Ecuador want more international aid to help manage a surge in Venezuelan migration that is overwhelming public services in those countries, a Peruvian official said on Thursday.

“Support has been given and we value it, but it has to increase in line with increasing migration,” said Cesar Bustamante, an official at Peru’s foreign ministry who met with representatives of Colombia and Ecuador on Wednesday in Lima.

“More demand for public services means more resources. There’s no way around it. We have to provide those services, with our own resources or with international help,” he said in a telephone interview.

Bustamante said developed countries should do more to support United Nations programs that are assisting migrants in South America and should offer funds to countries hosting them.

Colombia, Peru and Ecuador have accepted hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing an economic meltdown, growing poverty and food and medical shortages at home.

The United Nations has said that more than 1.6 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015 in one of the largest mass migrations in Latin American history.

In Peru, Venezuelans receive attention at state-funded health clinics and attend public schools, and the government’s immigration agency is processing residency requests around the clock.

Last week, United Nations’ agencies dealing with migration and refugees called for more help for host countries to handle a crisis it said was approaching a level comparable to the influx of refugees in the Mediterranean.

On Thursday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who is on a four-nation Latin American tour, said in Bogota that the European Union would give Latin America 35 million euros to help with the migrant crisis.

The United States has given nearly $31 million in aid for Venezuelans since fiscal year 2017, as well as $18.5 million for Colombia, home to more Venezuelan migrants than any other country, the U.S. State Department has said.

However, the United States has not eased its immigration policy to accommodate more Venezuelans, underscoring new challenges in the developing world as U.S. President Donald Trump shifts the burden of hosting desperate migrants and refugees to places with less capacity to absorb them.

Last week, Peru’s foreign minister said that he had spoken with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about funding needs.

Colombia, Peru, Ecuador discussed Venezuelan immigration in Lima on Wednesday at a gathering of the Andean Community, one of a number of regional meetings aimed at tackling migration issues.

In a joint statement, the three countries called on Caracas to facilitate passports for Venezuelan citizens to strengthen regional security. Bolivia, an ally of Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro, attended Wednesday’s meeting as the fourth member of the Andean Community, but it did not sign the joint statement.

Peru started requiring passports instead of national ID cards from Venezuelans on Saturday, following a similar decision by Ecuador.

Some 1,200 Venezuelans per day entered Peru after the new rule was implemented, down from 5,100 earlier this month, according to Peru’s immigration agency. The figure included migrants as well as aspiring refugees, who do not require passports for entry under international law.

(Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

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