Wednesday 18 January 2017

Chinese backpacker loses wallet and becomes refugee in Germany for two weeks by mistake

Barney Henderson

Published 10/08/2016 | 15:23

A file photo of people gathering among tents at a shelter for migrants inside a hangar of the former Tempelhof airport in Berlin Credit: Reuters
A file photo of people gathering among tents at a shelter for migrants inside a hangar of the former Tempelhof airport in Berlin Credit: Reuters

A Chinese tourist who lost his wallet unwittingly became a refugee in Germany for two weeks.

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The 31-year-old backpacker, who spoke neither German nor English, reported that he "needed help" after arriving at Stuttgart airport on July 4.

The man, who was described as "smartly dressed" and had apparently travelled to Europe for a walking holiday in Italy, was taken to a reception centre in the nearby town of Heidelberg.

Instead of signing a stolen item form for his wallet at the local police station, the man, known as Mr L, unwittingly filled out an asylum request form.

The mistake triggered a chain of events as the hapless tourist became mired in bureaucratic red tape.

Authorities took his passport and gave him refugee documents. He was transported nearly 200 miles to Düsseldorf, in the west of the country, and then a further 50 miles north to Dülmen.

He was given a medical check, had his finger prints taken, and accepted the pocket money given to him by camp officials.

A German Red Cross worker, Christoph Schlütermann, was the first to notice there may have been a mistake. He went to a local Chinese restaurant for help, who advised him to use a mobile phone translation app to communicate with the tourist.

"He acted so differently to other refugees. He kept trying to talk to people to tell his story but no one could understand him. He kept asking to get his passport back, which is the opposite of what most refugees do."

“I spoke into the app in German and the phone translated it into Mandarin. But when I received his reply, I got the curious response ‘I want to go walking in Italy’," Mr Schlütermann told the Dülmener Zeitung newspaper.

"He spent 12 days trapped in our bureaucratic jungle because we couldn't communicate," he said. "Germany is unfortunately an extremely bureaucratic country. Especially during the refugee crisis I've seen how much red tape we have."

More than one million refugees have arrived in Germany in the last year, fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. There has been only a tiny number of Chinese asylum seekers over the years, Mr Schlütermann said.

Twelve days into his stay in Germany, the man was finally able to set off for France and Italy.

The tourist, who did not lodge a formal complaint, was reported as saying: "It isn't how I imagined Europe."

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