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Germany: Foreign Minister Under Pressure Over Ukrainian Immigration

The political future of Germany's foreign minister is hanging in the balance. Joschka Fischer testified yesterday about lax visa regulations that allowed thousands of immigrants from Ukraine to enter the country in 2000-03. The political opposition says the influx raised the number of illegal workers in Germany and led to an increase in crime. Fischer’s fate could determine the future of Germany's governing coalition.

Munich, 26 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Joschka Fischer testified before a special parliamentary commission led by a member of the opposition.

In his testimony, Fischer acknowledged he should have been better aware that the German Embassy in Kyiv did not have the resources to handle a flood of visa applications from Ukrainians looking to travel to Germany. “I should have informed myself earlier and taken action earlier,” he said.

The opposition Christian Democrats accuse Fischer of ignoring reports that the embassy was overrun with visa applications and did not have enough staff to evaluate them. As a result, thousands of people were given entry visas without proper scrutiny.

The opposition says many of those who came to Germany found work in the “black economy” or joined the Russian mafia. Fischer, however, said there is no evidence the influx of immigrants led to an increase in crime.

The visa problem stems from a government decision in 2000 to ease visa restrictions. The new policy was summed up in an oft-quoted sentence, “When in doubt, decide for the traveler.” That policy has since been dropped.

In his testimony, Fischer said the decision to ease visa restrictions was in fact made by the previous government under Helmut Kohl. And, he said, the goal of the policy had been to regularize the inflow of people – not to lead to an increase in illegal immigration.

“It was clear to me -- and I can remember exactly -- that it was important that [the new regulations] should not lead to a substantial increase in illegal immigration,” Fischer said.

Statistics show the number of visas issued by the German Embassy in Kyiv doubled from about 150,000 in 1999 to almost 300,000 two years later.

Fischer admitted he had been warned in 2000 that there were problems in the visa section in Kyiv. But he said he believed those problems involved resources and personnel, rather than the conditions in which in visas were being granted.

The opposition says Fischer should resign for allowing policies that threatened the security of ordinary Germans through a virtually unchecked inflow of cheap labor and criminals.

Fischer’s resignation would be a severe blow to the government. He was until recently the most popular politician in Germany and his Green party is the junior member of a coalition government with the Social Democrats (SPD). It was the success of the Greens that enabled Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to win the last elections in 2002.