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Tourist’s run in with refugee bureaucracy

10 August 20160 comments

A Chinese tourist who tried to report a stolen wallet during a visit to Germany unwittingly signed an asylum application form that got him presumed to be a refugee and tangled him up in immigration bureaucracy for two weeks.

The 31-year-old, known only as Mr L, spoke only Mandarin.

German authorities discovered their mistake after turning in desperation to a local Chinese restaurant to find an interpreter, the Red Cross revealed.

“He didn’t speak any German or English — only Mandarin,” Christoph Schluetermann, head of a Red Cross refugee center in the northern town of Duelmen, told reporters after the man from Beijing was released to resume his tour of Europe.

“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.”

After being robbed in the tourist town of Heidelberg, the man went to the city hall, which he thought was a police station, and signed an asylum application.

He was then taken 300km to a refugee shelter in Duelmen, in North Western Germany, and given food and spending money like other refugees.

More than one million refugees have arrived in Germany in the last year, fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

But there have been only a few Chinese asylum seekers entering Germany over the years.

The man was fingerprinted and given a medical exam, but drew the attention of staff partly because he was well-dressed.

“But he also acted so differently to other refugees,” Mr Schluetermann said.

“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.”

Red Cross staff tried to get translation help from online apps but only learned the truth when they finally turned to a local Chinese restaurant.

“It was an extraordinary moment for us all. He said Europe was not what he had expected,” Mr Schluetermann said.

He said the man was happy to leave but not upset.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist