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Swiss embassy in Macedonia in line of fire

More than 6,000 people received a visa from the Swiss embassy in Skopje

The foreign ministry has confirmed reports that visa practices at its embassy in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, have been placed under review.

This content was published on September 16, 2007 - 21:01

The SonntagsZeitung newspaper revealed that embassy staff had come under fire for negligence in the issuing of visas.

A spokesman for the foreign ministry, Johann Aeschlimann, said an internal report dated one year ago "touched on an open wound" regarding visa practices in Macedonia.

According to the newspaper report, the embassy staff in Skopje were accused of being too lax in handing out visas, a practice running counter to efforts to combat illegal work in Switzerland.

Macedonia is considered a transit country used by criminal organisations for human trafficking.

The newspaper said embassy officials often accepted threadbare reasons given by applicants, and therefore failed to follow instructions and guidelines issued by the foreign ministry and the Federal Migration Office.

The embassy issued on average 6,000 visas a year and in 2006 turned down just 692 requests – a third of the number rejected in 2003.

The findings of the internal report have put the Skopje representation on the foreign ministry's "high risk" list.

In April, a parliamentary sub-committee demanded that embassy staff in states known as transit countries scrutinise visa applications more carefully.

"Tourists"

A Macedonian businessman living in Switzerland – not named by the newspaper – said it was well known that "tourists" from his homeland came to Switzerland for jobs. Many came for a few months to work illegally on farms during the harvest.

Aeschlimann said the embassy was now in the process of adapting its visa practices.

It is not the first time the foreign ministry has been confronted with questionable visa affairs.

Following cases of abuse and fraud in Pakistan, Peru, Russia, Serbia and Oman, the government introduced tighter controls.

The case in Pakistan led to the replacement of the entire embassy staff and the temporary closing of the visa department. Two diplomats were disciplined.

The staff in Islamabad were implicated by a Pakistani man working at the embassy who had been arrested earlier in the year on charges of sexual harassment. He allegedly demanded sex from two women seeking visas.

An audit of Swiss diplomatic representations at the end of last year showed that 33 embassies and consulates faced potential problems with corruption.

Top of the list of representations deemed most at risk were Beijing, Moscow and Mumbai.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The 141 Swiss missions abroad issue about 500,000 visas a year. 40,000 applications are rejected.

The number of visas issued should drop to about 400,000 once Europe's Schengen accord, doing away with border controls, comes into effect in Switzerland - at the earliest in 2008.

Switzerland has been investigating cases of visa fraud in Peru, Russia, Nigeria, Serbia, Eritrea and Pakistan.

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