Venezuelan exodus approaching crisis moment

GENEVA/CARACAS – The exodus of migrants from Venezuela is building toward a "crisis moment" comparable to events involving refugees in the Mediterranean, the United Nations migration agency said on Friday.

Growing numbers are fleeing economic meltdown and political turmoil in Venezuela, threatening to overwhelm neighboring countries. Officials from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru will meet in Bogota next week to seek a way forward.

Ecuador and Peru have this month tightened entry rules for Venezuelans, requiring them to carry valid passports instead of just national ID cards. While in Brazil, rioters drove hundreds back over the border.

Describing those events as early warning signs, International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Joel Millman said funding and means of managing the outflow must be mobilized.

"This is building to a crisis moment that we‘ve seen in other parts of the world, particularly in the Mediterranean," he told a news briefing.

On Thursday, the IOM and U.N. refugee agency UNHCR called on Latin American countries to ease entry for Venezuelans, more than 1.6 million of whom have left since 2015.

UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said on Friday that governments had made "commendable" efforts despite some reception capacities and services being overwhelmed.

But "some disturbing images" had emerged from the region in the past week. "Those increase stigmatization of those who are forced to flee, they put at risk also the efforts for their integration," he said.

Venezuela‘s information minister, Jorge Rodriguez, said on Friday that a new package of economic measures meant to address hyperinflation would win over Venezuelans who had left the country.

The member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries on Monday cut five zeros from prices and pegged the country‘s currency to an obscure state-backed cryptocurrency. Critics slammed the plan as inadequate in the face of inflation that topped 82,000 percent in July and is expected to reach 1 million percent this year.

"The conclusion is that Venezuelans are going to return and furthermore we invite them to return because we need them for this recovery plan," Rodriguez told a news conference.

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