By Alexandra Valencia
QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador on Thursday said that Venezuelans entering the country would need a passport from Saturday, an apparent attempt to curb a rising influx of migrants fleeing their homeland.
Members of the Andean Community - which includes Venezuela and Ecuador - have an existing agreement that allows citizens to cross borders between member countries with only their national ID cards. That has been a significant advantage for Venezuelan migrants, who struggle to obtain passports amid chronic shortages.
"As of this Saturday the government will require that anyone entering Ecuador present his or her passport," said Interior Minister Mauro Toscanini on Thursday.
The Foreign Ministry later issued a statement saying the measure applied specifically to Venezuelans, adding that their national ID cards were often deteriorated and lacked the necessary security features.
Venezuelan migrants have been taking days-long bus rides across South America, often crossing Ecuador on their way south to Peru or Chile, because they cannot afford flights on a minimum wage that adds up to a few U.S. dollars a month.
Quito declared a state of emergency in three provinces this month after a spike in Venezuelan migrants crossing the Ecuadorean-Colombian border high in the Andean mountains. Authorities said up to 4,500 Venezuelans were crossing daily, compared with around 500 to 1,000 previously.
Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno is left-wing like his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro, but he has distanced himself from Caracas since taking office last year. The migration wave has also soured public opinion towards Venezuela in the country of some 16 million.
The Ecuadorean government does not provide data on the total number of Venezuelans living in the country, but an official at the Foreign Ministry told local radio that some 600,000 Venezuelans had entered the country so far this year, with around 109,000 staying on.
Venezuelans begging or selling knickknacks are now a common sight in Quito. And as in much of Latin America, some locals fret that desperate Venezuelans are undercutting the job market.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia, Writing by Alexandra Ulmer, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)