June 17, 2019
Latin America

Venezuela nears ‘Mediterranean crisis point’

The UN has warned Venezuela is heading for the same refugee "crisis moment" seen in the Mediterranean in 2015.

The warning comes as neighbouring countries try to stem the flow of Venezuelans looking to escape the country's dire economic situation.

Peru brings in stricter border regulations on Saturday – a day after a court overturned Ecuador's attempt to strengthen its own controls.

More than two million Venezuelans have fled their country since 2014.

They are fleeing a severe economic crisis which has led to shortages of food, medicine and basic goods, with many saying they are doing so because they cannot get the operations and medical care they need.

Now, the threat of becoming trapped has sent many more running for the border.

More than 2,500 crossed into a small Peruvian border town on Friday, news agency AFP reports, with thousands more attempting to reach Peru at the main crossing in Ecuador.

They are trying to arrive before the new rule, requiring them to have valid passports, is brought into force on Saturday. Until now, Venezuelans have been allowed to enter Peru with just their ID cards.

Ecuador brought in a similar law last week. However, on Friday, a judge found requiring Venezuelans to carry valid passports broke regional agreements on freedom of movement.

The state of Roraima, in Brazil's Amazon region, also had its attempt to close the border thrown out by a judge earlier this month.

Joel Millman, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), pointed out the new restrictions – as well as recent violence at the border in Brazil – were early warning signs that the region was in need of help.

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

"A difficult situation can become a crisis situation very quickly and we have to be prepared," he added.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is to set up a special UN team which will co-ordinate a regional response to the crisis, while Ecuador is to host a 13-nation regional summit in September.

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