Peru has deported more than 40 Venezuelan migrants for concealing they had criminal records or for residing illegally in the country, the interior minister said, in the first large expulsion since hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fled to Peru to escape their country’s economic crisis.
The migrants were arrested in different districts of the capital, Lima, in a police operation early on Monday, and were put on a military plane headed to Venezuela hours later.
Interior Minister Carlos Moran said most of the Venezuelans expelled had provided false sworn declarations in their residency applications that they had no criminal record, a violation of Peru’s migration law punishable with deportation.
Others were deported for residing illegally in the Andean country, Moran added, without providing details.
Peru, which has a population of 32 million, has the second-largest population of Venezuelan migrants after Colombia.
Most of the 700,000 Venezuelans in Peru arrived in the past year.
‘That’s a threat’
“As a country, we have fraternally welcomed thousands of Venezuelans who have come to seek a better future,” Moran told reporters.
“But as a government, we must protect our citizens first, and these people who have entered lying, falsifying information, had criminal records, and that’s a threat.”
The deportation on Monday followed reports in the local media in recent months about Venezuelan nationals involved in criminal rackets.
“People have to understand [that] we are all not the same, the great majority are here to work and send money to our families, to get them out from the inferno that [Venezuela] has become,” Victor Guzman, a Venezuelan immigrant in Peru told Al Jazeera.
Some Peruvians are also worried about their own job stability, and feel this new wave of migration could end up becoming a threat.
“Some businessmen have laid off Peruvians because they say Venezuelans charge them less,” Romualda Salas, a Peruvian businesswoman explained.
Some three million Venezuelans have left their homeland since 2015, seeking to escape an economic crisis that has deprived many of basic foods and medicine, according to a UN estimate.
A further two million are expected to emigrate this year.
Most Venezuelan migrants have ended up in other South American countries, straining public services in developing nations unaccustomed to absorbing large migratory waves and heightening a backlash in some places.
“I feel lucky to [be here], but it’s a pity many compatriots are being mistreated. We are not here because we want to be, but because we need to be,” Alexandra Torrealba, a Venezuelan migrant in Peru said.
Peru created temporary residency permits for Venezuelans in early 2017, allowing them to work and receive health and education services.
But last year, the government of President Martin Vizcarra stopped allowing new applicants into the programme, which has granted permits to more than 330,000 Venezuelans and is processing requests for 160,000 others.
Sixty-seven percent of Peruvians now view Venezuelan immigration as negative, compared with 43 percent in February 2018, according to an Ipsos poll published in daily El Comercio on Monday.
Crime was listed as the top concern, followed by fears about jobs.