Venezuela's neighbors seek aid to grapple with migration crisis

QUITO (Reuters) - A group of Latin American nations called on Tuesday for increased aid to assist thousands of Venezuelan immigrants fleeing the economic collapse of their homeland.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan migrants take refuge inside the building of the International Center of Border Services on the Rumichaca International Bridge, in Tulcan, Ecuador August 18, 2018. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez/File Photo

A group of 11 nations signed a declaration in the Ecuadorean capital of Quito urging “substantially increased” resources to grapple with the exodus of Venezuelans, which a U.N. agency recently described as reaching a “crisis moment.”

The declaration, signed by officials from Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, followed a two-day meeting of technical teams focused on the issue.

It urged increased spending on assistance for Venezuelan migrants by the countries themselves, as well as support from the United Nations and other “specialized international organizations.”

Ecuador’s Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the declaration. But Ecuador’s Deputy Minister of Human Mobility, Santiago Chavez, said aid from regional multilateral organizations was also being sought.

Delegations were still working to determine exactly how much aid they would request, Chavez said, adding that the figure would depend on the number of Venezuelans arriving in each country.

The statement also urged the government of President Nicolas Maduro to ensure that citizens have identification cards and travel documents in order to cross borders freely.

Venezuela did not participate in the Ecuador meeting despite being invited, organizers said.

Since 2015, more than 1.6 million Venezuelans have abandoned their country, with 90 percent arriving in neighboring South American countries, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

Maduro and other top officials of Venezuela’s ruling Socialist Party have dismissed those migration figures as stemming from politically motivated alarmism and “fake news” meant to justify foreign intervention in the country’s affairs.

Maduro said on Monday night that no more than 600,000 Venezuelans had emigrated in the last two years.

Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Tom Brown