German prosecutors have launched an investigation into dozens of Turkish citizens suspected of entering Germany on service passports obtained through illegitimate means.
There is mounting evidence that dozens of Turkish citizens have entered Germany on service, or "gray," passports. These passports provide visa-free entry into a country and are usually issued to people, who are not diplomats, but are on official duty abroad, attending events such as trade fairs, conferences or workshops, for example.
Public prosecutors in Weiden in der Oberpfalz in the state of Bavaria, not far from the Czech border, have opened an investigation into several alleged people smugglers suspected of obtaining service passports to aid persons not officially entitled to enter Germany. The German police was reportedly made aware of irregularities last year and has been observing trafficking activities since late 2020.
Weiden's chief prosecutor Gerd Schäfer confirmed to DW that an investigation was in place and said that it concerned 30 people suspected of having smuggled at least 213 people into Germany on gray passports. He said the case was particularly complicated because it is not one of clear illegal entry into the country as those who had come in were travelling on valid service passports. "We're only at the beginning of our investigation," Schäfer said, adding that he hoped that the cooperation with Turkish authorities would shed light on how the service passports had been issued in the first place.
It is not only state officials who are entitled to apply for service passports. They might also be issued within the context of cooperation between two non-governmental organizations. In such a case, the foreign organization would have to issue an invitation.
There is already a similar investigation underway in Hanover involving Ersin K., who allegedly sent false invitations to 53 people in Malatya, in central Turkey, to attend a conference about the environment between July 30 and August 30, 2020. According to public prosecutors in Hanover, 46 people travelled to Germany by bus before disappearing. Five of them later applied for asylum.
German politicians have called for more clarity. Left Party lawmaker Gökay Akbulut issued an verbal request to the government asking that an investigation be conducted into how Turkish citizens had used gray passports to enter Germany.
The government answered that the people in question had tried to come to Germany without a visa and to apply for asylum. It added that there were suspicions that the gray passports had been obtained as a result of bribery and corruption.
The government added that border authorities had been informed of the problem at the end of 2020 and that German police had been working closely with Turkish authorities since January 2021.
The Turkish opposition has also tried to find out more about the suspected human smuggling, which has received regular coverage in Turkish media. The biggest opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), has called for an investigation. But its demand has twice been rejected.
After considerable pressure, the Turkish parliament's foreign affairs committee did debate the matter. According to the minutes, Turkey's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yavuz Selim Kiran, from the ruling AKP party, said that there was no reason for concern and explained that the German government had been advised to "reject applications for asylum from people who had abused the gray passport, whom Turkey would take back at any time."
Kiran also assured the committee members that the government was in close contact with the German foreign ministry and the German embassy in Turkey. Utku Cakirozer, a CHP member of the committee, was not satisfied: "Even if the interior ministry is conducting an investigation, parliament should actually fulfill its supervisory obligations. We demand that this issue be placed on the parliamentary agenda."
Cakirozer said that he thought an investigative committee should be established but this request had been rejected.
Speaking on a Turkish television program, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said that the government had launched an investigation into the allegations a month and half ago. "In the past six or seven months, 4,496 people have had applications for a service passport denied," he said, adding that of the 109,000 people who had travelled abroad on gray passports since 2018, 804 had not returned after the document expired.
It is not clear how many of these are in Germany. The German interior minister has said that this is part of the investigation currently underway.
According to reports in Turkish media, people paid between €5,000 and €8,000 ($6,000-$9,640) to be smuggled into Germany.
This article was adapted from German.