Illegal immigration fears have hindered some visa requests by young Catholics planning to attend the World Youth Day in Cologne. The organizers are working with the German foreign ministry to resolve the issues.
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Hundreds of would-be pilgrims from Asia and Africa are still waiting for German visas to be able to attend Catholic World Youth Day (WYD) celebrations next week, organizers said Monday, since worries over illegal immigration were holding up applications in German consulates abroad.
"We're particularly worried about Cameroon, Togo and the Philippines," said World Youth Day spokesman Matthias Kopp in the western German city of Cologne, citing scores of rejected or delayed applications.
Kopp said organizers had contacted the German foreign ministry in Berlin in the hope of expediting the process.
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A spokesperson for the foreign ministry said the ministry had agreed with World Youth Day officials on a procedure for processing the applications with the aim of ensuring the greatest participation possible while thwarting attempts at illegal immigration.
He stressed that everybody wanted Germany to be "a good and cosmopolitan host," but also warned that the visa applications which did not meet the necessary requirements would have to be rejected.
Individual complaints would be "carefully and conscientiously reviewed," the spokesperson said.
A mega event
The World Youth Day, running Aug. 16-21, is expected to draw up to one million people, including the German-born Pope Benedict XVI, who will be making his first official trip outside the Italian peninsula since he became head of the church in April.
Organizers estimate that 3.5 percent of the 400,000 registered pilgrims will come from South America, three percent from Asia and 2.5 percent from Asia, Kopp said. The vast majority will come from North America and Europe.
World Youth Day logo
The organizers of World Youth Day have tried to keep the cost of attendance to a minimum in order to give as many young people as possible a chance to participate in the mega event with a budget of 100 million euros ($124 million). Depending on the economic strength of their home countries, young Catholics will have to pay anywhere between 100 and 169 euros for a five-day, all-inclusive package.
Avoiding the pitfalls
The German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung said German authorities were hoping to avoid the problems encountered at the World Youth Day in Toronto two years ago, which saw 2,300 of the pilgrims remain in Canada illegally after the event.
To allay the concerns of the German authorities, applicants wishing to attend the event in Cologne are required to produce a letter of recommendation from a local bishop and a return airline ticket.
But the report said that embassies and consulates in India, Togo, Cameroon and the Central African Republic are demanding additional documents including proof of employment at home, bank statements and even property titles -- a hurdle that will prove daunting to most youths.