Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Immigrants, crime and a German politician's career

The German Foreign Minister may soon be looking for a new job:

JOSCHKA FISCHER, the German Foreign Minister, was fighting for his political survival yesterday over charges that his ministry opened the borders to thousands of criminals and prostitutes from Eastern Europe.

In a scandal that the Opposition hopes will end the career of Germany’s most popular politician, Herr Fischer stands accused of liberal policies that relaxed visa restrictions and encouraging embassies to rubber-stamp applications to enter Germany. Herr Fischer said that he accepted responsibility for his ministry’s “mistakes” and said that he was prepared to go before a parliamentary investigations committee. But he pledged to resist calls for his resignation.

His departure would be a significant setback for Gerhard Schröder, the Chancellor, whose centre-left Government came to power in 1998 with the support of Herr Fischer’s Green Party. The Federal Criminal Agency, Germany’s version of Scotland Yard, released figures yesterday showing that German embassies were responsible for a third of all visas issued for the Schengen zone, in which visitors are allowed to travel from country to country without passports.

“German missions abroad also have the lowest rejection rate of all EU missions and this fact is well known among criminal groups,” said the report, which was leaked to Die Welt newspaper. The report, prepared in September 2001, gives a graphic account of how Eastern European people-smugglers made use of lax German embassies.

“In Ukraine alone, 85 per cent of all Schengen visas were stamped by the German authorities,” the report said. “In the past five years a million Ukrainians have entered the European Union via Germany.”

The embassies were under explicit instruction to issue visas even if there were some doubt about the willingness of the visitor to return. This was backed up by easily available insurance policies covering the cost of a forced expulsion from Germany.

Maybe Fischer should try getting a job with the Bush administration?

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