LIMA (Reuters) - Hundreds of Venezuelan migrants entered Peru on Saturday to seek refugee status or for other humanitarian reasons, Peruvian authorities said, despite a new rule prohibiting Venezuelans without passports from crossing into Peru from Ecuador taking effect.

Peru implemented the passport requirement on Saturday due to a four-fold increase in migrants fleeing economic collapse in Venezuela in the past eight months, in a move authorities said would help them register entrants. Many Venezuelans struggle to obtain passports and arrive only with national identity cards.

"There are hundreds that have entered with a petition for refugee status, a procedure that is allowing people without passports to enter," said Abel Chiroque, the director of the public defender's office in the border town of Tumbes. "We must act humanely with this vulnerable population."

Other migrants - namely children, pregnant women, the ill and the elderly - had been allowed entry for humanitarian reasons, he added.

Both Ecuador and Peru tightened border restrictions for Venezuelan migrants earlier this month in response to the growing influx. This week, the United Nations migration agency said the exodus was building toward a "crisis moment" and called on Peru and Ecuador to ease the restrictions.

Chiroque said he had received reports of possible human trafficking, and was concerned about cases of children and adolescents travelling alone or accompanied by adults who were not direct family members.

He pointed to the case of seven children who were travelling without parents, and were currently being held in a state-run shelter in Tumbes until authorities can "resolve their situation."

The growing numbers fleeing economic meltdown and political turmoil in Venezuela, where people scrounge for food and other necessities of daily life, threaten to overwhelm neighbouring countries. Officials from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru will meet in Bogota next week to seek a way forward.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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