IPIALES (Reuters) – More than 200 Venezuelans crossed the border illegally into Ecuador on Tuesday, fleeing a deepening economic and political crisis at home in a desperate race to get to Peru before new entry restrictions kick in on Saturday.
This year 423,000 Venezuelans have entered Ecuador through the Rumichaca border near the southwestern Colombian town of Ipiales.
Alarmed, Ecuador last Saturday put in place rules requiring Venezuelans to show passports, rather than just national identity cards. Peru will do the same this Saturday.
Hundreds of migrants who had begun traveling days ago by bus and on foot through Colombia from Venezuela before the policy change crossed the Rumichaca checkpoint on Tuesday. More than a dozen Ecuadorean police watched them, but did nothing to stop them.
The migrants plan to walk and hitchhike 840 kilometers (522 miles) in freezing conditions to the crossing at Huaquilla in Peru. Hundreds of other migrants had planned to cross legally with their Venezuelan national ID card to find work in Ecuador, Peru or Chile.
Sleeping in tents and on streets, tension is mounting as conditions worsen, migrants complain of the cold and the little money they have for food is running out. Arguments have started to break out as they vent anger at Ecuador.
Venezuela’s economy has been in steep decline and there are periodic waves of protests against the leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro. Maduro argues that he is the victim of a Washington-led “economic war” designed to sabotage his administration through sanctions and price-gouging.