GENEVA/CARACAS (Reuters) - 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 neighbouring countries. Officials from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru will meet in Bogota next week to seek a way forward. [nL2N1VE1E2]
Ecuador and Peru have this month tightened entry rules for Venezuelans, requiring them to carry passports instead of just national ID cards. 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 mobilised.
"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. [nL8N1VE385]
Peru's top immigration official, Eduardo Sevilla, said Peru will exempt some Venezuelans from the passport requirement, including parents with children seeking to join the rest of their family, pregnant women and the gravely ill.
But Sevilla said authorities would also be vigilant of attempts to evade the new rule by claiming refugee status.
"Is UNHCR going to take responsibility if that person commits a crime?" Sevilla said to Reuters on Friday. "Our priority is to contribute to security and internal order by clearly identifying people."
UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said on Friday that governments had made "commendable" efforts despite some reception capacities and services being overwhelmed.
But he said "some disturbing images" had emerged from the region in the past week which risked stigmatizing Venezuelans who had fled and complicating efforts to integrate them.
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.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Vivian Sequera in Caracas, Additional Reporting By Mitra Taj in Lima; Editing by Angus Berwick and Richard Chang)