January 20, 2019 / 11:27 PM / 5 months ago

Ecuador to tighten controls on Venezuelan immigrants after murder

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador is setting up new units to check Venezuelan immigrants’ legal status and may tighten entry requirements after a Venezuelan man murdered his pregnant Ecuadorian girlfriend, President Lenin Moreno said on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan migrant holds his passport at a queue to get a temporary residency permit outside the immigration office in Lima, Peru August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/File Photo

The killing in the northern city of Ibarra is the first reported murder perpetrated by a Venezuelan immigrant in Ecuador since hundreds of thousands have arrived there after fleeing an economic crisis in Venezuela.

“I have ordered the immediate setting up of units to control Venezuelan immigrants’ legal status in the streets, in the workplace, and at the border,” Moreno said on Twitter.

The government, he added, may create a new “special permit” for Venezuelans to enter the country. He did not give further details about the units or how they will operate.

“Ecuador is and will be a country of peace. I will not allow any criminal to take that away from us,” he said.

The Venezuelan man held his victim hostage on a busy street for about an hour on Saturday evening before stabbing her to death. He was then arrested by police.

Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo said she had fired Ibarra’s police chief for not preventing the murder, which she said officers could have used force to prevent.

Ecuador estimates that some 1.3 million Venezuelans entered the country last year via Colombia, though most continue to Peru, fleeing a hyperinflationary collapse back home that has left millions unable to obtain basic food or medicine.

Last year, Ecuador’s government said it was changing entry requirements to require that Venezuelans present a passport, but a judge blocked that change.

The president of the Association of Venezuelans in Ecuador, Daniel Regalado, said the murder risked demonising Venezuelans just because they did not have legal status.

“These are isolated cases and they don’t involve the whole Venezuelan community in Ecuador,” Regalado said in an interview.

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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