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Germany

Ex-Official Denies Visa Policy Caused Crisis

A former German junior foreign minister denied on Thursday that the government opened the way to uncontrolled immigration in testimony before a parliamentary probe, days before Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer takes the hot seat. The conservative opposition alleges that relaxed visa rules were exploited by "people smugglers" who brought tens of thousands of eastern Europeans, especially Ukrainians, into Germany on tourist visas between 2000 and 2003. Forced prostitutes and criminals are alleged to have been among the immigrants. But Ludger Volmer, who resigned from the ministry in February, told a cross-party committee he rejected any suggestion that the amendments to the policy had triggered the people smuggling. The basic idea of the reform had been "to solve humanitarian problems" and to help families that had been separated by Europe's Cold War division to re-unite. "The point was not to open up whole sections of the borders," Volmer said. Volmer, who like Fischer is a member of the government coalition partners the Greens, described accusations that the new visa directive had been a result of the Greens' liberal ideology as "total humbug." The pressure to change the visa policy came from parliament and individual politicians from across the political spectrum, he said. "There was total agreement about the need to reform the visa policy," Volmer said, and this stretched from expert aides to ministers.

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