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Last Updated: Monday, 14 February, 2005, 15:35 GMT
German visa policy sparks furore
By Ray Furlong
BBC News, Berlin

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
Joschka Fischer has the backing of Chancellor Schroeder
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has accepted political responsibility for an immigration scandal that led to an influx of criminals into the EU.

Rules for issuing tourist visas to Germany were relaxed, allegedly letting in criminal gangs and women forced into prostitution, mainly from Ukraine.

The scandal has been growing for some weeks now. Mr Fischer's deputy Ludger Volmer was forced to resign on Friday.

However, Mr Fischer looks safe from opposition calls that he too step down.

The foreign minister has kept silent on this subject until now.

With the media reporting that he is running scared, he has said he accepts political responsibility for what he called potential oversights and mistakes by his colleagues.

Cologne trips

The scandal concerns new rules on issuing tourist visas in Ukraine and Belarus that were drawn up in the year 2000. The basic rule was: if in doubt, act in favour of the freedom to travel.

The German media has reported that mafia gangs developed a business of paying unemployed Germans to pledge to support visiting tourists.

The German authorities did not check to see if these Germans were financially capable of doing so.

The result was nearly 300,000 visas granted by an overwhelmed embassy in Kiev to Ukrainians ostensibly travelling to admire the beauty of Cologne cathedral.

The opposition alleges many of those who came started working illegally, while others were women forced into prostitution.

It has called for Mr Fischer's resignation but the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, has strongly backed his foreign minister.

Germans argue over integration
30 Nov 04 |  Europe
Country profile: Germany
23 Jan 05 |  Country profiles

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