By Lizbeth Diaz and Dave Graham
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Voluntary returns of Venezuelan migrants in Mexico by plane back to their homeland are likely to begin in the coming days, four people familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
Mexico is dealing with a sharp increase in Venezuelans, both from those arriving at its southern border and due to thousands of expulsions from the United States following a deal last week aimed at stemming the flow of people.
Under a bilateral plan announced on October 2. On February 12, Washington said it would grant humanitarian access to the United States by air for up to 24,000 Venezuelans. It also allowed US officials to expel to Mexico those caught trying to cross illegally by land.
Voluntary returns to Venezuela by air should begin this week, according to two Mexican officials familiar with the matter.
It was not immediately clear how many people would return on the first flight, nor how many trips were planned. An official said there could be multiple flights.
Mexico’s foreign ministry and the government’s National Migration Institute (INM) did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Venezuelan embassy in Mexico could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Biden administration has come under pressure to curb illegal immigration after a record number of border crossings this year. Venezuelans seeking a better future away from their economically battered homeland have helped fuel that trend.
The Mexican government said on October 1. 12 that Venezuelans who enter their territory as of that day will not be able to request access to the United States by air from Mexico.
Those Venezuelans who have entered Mexico illegally and want to stay in the country will have to apply for asylum, according to a Mexican official familiar with the matter. However, if they do that, they cannot apply for US asylum, the official added.
That could mean that voluntary return to Venezuela is more attractive to some than staying in Mexico, the official said.
For the past four years, the Venezuelan government has provided special flights to its citizens abroad who lack the means to pay the fare. It also currently offers low-cost commercial flights from Mexico on state-owned airline Conviasa, according to a person familiar with the matter.
(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Dave Graham, and Ana Isabel Martinez; editing by Richard Pullin)
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