CARACAS - President Nicolas Maduro says he's going to ask the United Nations for $500 million to help repatriate hundreds of thousands of impoverished Venezuelans who have fled their country's economic meltdown.
Maduro has yet to decide whether or not he will attend the UN General Assembly in New York next week, saying on Tuesday he first needed to evaluate the security procedures in place.
He has not attended the General Assembly since 2015.
In addressing a message to the UN's new special representative for Venezuelan migrants, Maduro took what appeared to be a deliberately provocative tone — and it was unclear whether he intended to follow through with the request for money.
"I invite you, come to Venezuela, I'm going to ask you to give me $500 million to bring me ... all the migrants outside Venezuela who want to return, and they all want to return!" he said in the message to UN representative Eduardo Stein, a former Guatemalan vice president.
Maduro said he would use the money to fly Venezuelans back home.
The UN says 2.3 million Venezuelans are living outside the country, with 1.6 million having fled since 2015.
Venezuela's economic woes began in 2014 with the crash in the price of oil, a commodity on which the country is almost entirely dependent.
"We'll need a fleet of planes to bring them, I'm not going to bring them back on foot," said Maduro, alluding to the fact many migrants fleeing the country have done so on foot or hitch-hiking, with their few worldly belongings bundled up in their arms.
Venezuela is in a fourth year of recession with inflation predicted to reach one million percent this year.
Citizens face shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicines, while public services including water, electricity and transport are often paralyzed.
Maduro has already launched a "Return to Venezuela" campaign, putting on airplanes and buses to bring home migrants that have left the country.
The government claims it has repatriated 3,000 people while it also downplays the numbers to have left.
Meanwhile, Maduro described Stein as "a type of inspector, prosecutor, policeman for Venezuelan migration," during a meeting with his finance cabinet on Thursday.
Turning his attentions to a potential appearance in New York, Maduro said: "They have me in their sights to kill me," without elaborating on whom that might be.