efe-epaQuito

More than 160 Venezuelans left here Friday for their homeland on four buses under Caracas' program to repatriate migrants who have struggled to find work in Ecuador and are worried about rising xenophobia in this Andean nation, the charge d'affaires at Venezuela's embassy in Quito said.

Pedro Sassone told reporters that his government decided to charter buses as a supplement to the existing aerial repatriation effort, which has carried 2,245 people back to Venezuela since Sept. 5.

Officials concluded that the four flights scheduled for this month would not be enough to meet the demand among Venezuelans who want to go home, he said.

"We are going to see how things go," Sassone said.

An estimated 3 million Venezuelans have emigrated in recent years to escape high inflation, shortages of basic goods and political turmoil in their homeland.

Some Venezuelan expats are not content in Ecuador, Sassone said, noting that many of his compatriots - even those with advanced degrees and professional qualifications - have been unable to obtain permanent employment and find themselves reduced to eking out a living at odd jobs.

The migrants also feel a "sensation of unease" over a wave of xenophobic attacks that followed the murder by a Venezuelan man of his pregnant Ecuadorian girlfriend, the diplomat said.

More than 20,000 expats have traveled back to Venezuela on repatriation flights from Peru, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Colombia, Sassone said.

The charge d'affaires, who remains loyal to beleaguered Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, insisted that the exodus from Venezuela is "economic migration" and not a reaction to political persecution.

The Venezuelan opposition and its international allies denounce the Maduro government as a "dictatorship" and numerous foreign governments have recognized the Jan. 23 claim of National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido to be the country's interim head of state.

Addressing the political situation in Venezuela, Sassone said that the Maduro administration is the country's only government.

Guaido has named ambassadors to the nations that have recognized him, including Ecuador, but for now, Sassone remains the accredited representative of Venezuela.

"We aspire to continue serving Venezuelans," he said, adding that his future in Quito "depends strictly on the Ecuadorian government."