Report claims 350,000 Ukrainians got illegal visas

16th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

16 March 2005, BERLIN - Germany's illegal visa scandal gained momentum on Wednesday with a report saying up to 350,000 Ukrainians received illegal tourist visas in the years 2000 and 2001 alone.

16 March 2005

BERLIN - Germany's illegal visa scandal gained momentum on Wednesday with a report saying up to 350,000 Ukrainians received illegal tourist visas in the years 2000 and 2001 alone.

The affair threatens to engulf German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer who presided over a radical liberalisation in the granting of visas to countries in eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia which was in place from 2000 until 2003, when it was abruptly cancelled.

A report by Germany's Federal Border Police - obtained by the newspaper Die Welt - says up to 70 percent of Ukrainians arriving in Germany in 2000 and 2001 had obtained visas after lying to officials.

This would mean that up to 350,000 Ukrainians arrived illegally in Germany, said the paper. Tens of thousands arrived in Germany from other countries via the looser visa programme during this period.

Under the European Union Schengen Agreement, which eliminates border controls between most EU members, many of the Ukrainians travelled on from Germany to work illegally in other states in the bloc, said the report.

Ukrainians obtained visas which were issued in blocks to travel agents which reportedly produced fictitious tourist progammes for those arriving in Germany. People applying for visas in the first years of the programme were often not even interviewed by German consular officials.

A parliamentary probe is investigating the affair and Fischer has been summoned to give evidence at a still to be determined date.

The probe is seeking answers to a series of questions linked to the visa scandal. These include:

- When did Fischer first realise there was a serious problem with the liberalised issuing of visas and why did it take so long for the government to pull the emergency brake?

- Why did Fischer ignore repeated early warnings from diplomats and German ambassadors that the new system was being abused?

- Why were separate warnings from the German Interior Ministry ignored? And why did Interior Minister Otto Schily not intervene to force a change to the programme?

The almost daily leaks of confidential documents to the media on the visa scandal shows how the trust of German diplomats in Fischer has hit rock bottom, said the Berliner Zeitung newspaper.

"Probably never in the history of the foreign ministry since World War II has loyalty been put to such a test," said the paper which noted the ministry, usually known for its tight-lipped diplomats, had seemingly sprung leaks on all sides.

Fischer, said the paper, was reaping his reward for years of treating top aides badly.

"What looks like glamour and charm on the outside is revealed close up to be arrogance and presumptuousness," said the Berliner Zeitung.

The German government is getting increasingly nervous that the scandal - along with record 12.6 percent unemployment - could harm its chances to win re-election in a key state election in North Rhine-Westphalia on 22 May.

Defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia would be doubly damaging. It is Germany's most populous state and currently ruled by a carbon-copy of the federal government coalition combining Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) with the Greens as junior partner.

The state has also been ruled by the SPD for decades and if Schroeder's SPD cannot win North Rhine-Westphalia it will be a grim omen for his chances to secure a third term in Germany's autumn 2006 general election.


Subject: German news

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