Caracas, Venezuela (AFP) — Thousands of Venezuelans are clamouring to return home to recession, hyperinflation and a collapsing economy, President Nicolas Maduro’s government claimed on Wednesday as Brazil sends troops to the border with its crisis-ridden neighbour.

A day after Maduro told the hundreds of thousands of his compatriots who have already fled the region’s worst economic crisis in recent memory “to return from economic slavery: stop cleaning toilets abroad and come back to live in your homeland”, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez claimed many are trying to do exactly that.

Rodriguez said Venezuelan embassies around the world are inundated with requests from citizens to return home, but that the government “cannot publicize it until it’s happening in real time” for fear of “retaliation against those Venezuelans seeking repatriation.”

According to the United Nations, some 1.6 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015, with the numbers accelerating all the time.

On Monday, Venezuela chartered an airplane to bring 89 citizens back home from Peru, where Maduro said they had suffered “racism, contempt, economic persecution and slavery”.

Peru recently tightened its border controls, requiring Venezuelans fleeing poverty and an economic meltdown to show a passport to enter after saying that more than 400,000 were already living in the country.

Rodriguez singled out Peru, Ecuador and Colombia for special criticism as countries where Venezuelans have been the victims of “xenophobia and hate crimes”.