BERLIN – A Chinese tourist who was robbed in Germany wound up in the countryâ€™s refugee system when he tried to report the theft of his wallet, officials said Monday. His European vacation included a free 12-day stay in a refugee center.
According to Red Cross official Christoph Schluetermann, the 31-year-old Beijing tourist identified only as â€œMr. Lâ€ spoke only Mandarin and unwittingly signed an asylum application at Heidelbergâ€™s city hall late last month.
Authorities then took him to a Red Cross refugee center headed by Schluetermann some 220 miles away in the Northern Germany town of Duelman. The language barrier prevented him from explaining himself until staff at a local Chinese restaurant helped interpret.
â€œMr. Lâ€ arrived at the airport in Stuttgart. His wallet was stolen (or possibly lost), and he turned to the police. At least, that is what he thought. Maybe it was customs, maybe it was the immigration office.
â€œMr. Lâ€ was alone and did not speak any English or German. In the end, he signed a paper that would lead to an application for asylum instead of a police report for robbery. German officials put him on a bus to Heidelberg where asylum seekers are processed. His passport was taken.
The journey continued to the German northwestern city of Dortmund. From there, refugees are allocated to different cities. Four days after his arrival in Germany, the man landed in Duelmen.
There, the Red Cross’s Schluetermann got suspicious. The man was well-dressed and he was upset instead of relieved. So Schluetermann used a language app to translate questions into Mandarin and got help from a local Chinese restaurant. Finally, some real communication: the alleged refugee wanted to travel and “go for a walk in Italy” but couldn’t escape the bureaucracy without his passport.
Schluetermann’s employees called consulates and public authorities to get the passport back and cancel the application for asylum. It turned out that once you are called a refugee, it is not too easy to take that back. Furthermore, German officials seemed to have difficulty finding his tourist visa in the digital system.
Schluetermann said Mr. L. was happy he could resume his European tour with planned trips to France and Italy but not otherwise upset by the mixup.
â€œIt was an extraordinary moment for us all. He said Europe was not what he had expected,â€ Schluetermann said. â€œWhat would you expect if you had come to Europe as a tourist and spent 12 days sleeping on a camping bed in a refugee center?â€
Germany took in over a million refugees in 2015 fleeing war and privation in countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Few Chinese people have applied for asylum in Germany in recent years, Schluetermann said.