Man diverted to home in Dülmen after mistakenly filling in asylum application instead of stolen goods report
A Chinese tourist who tried to report a stolen wallet during a visit to Germanyunwittingly signed an application that got him stranded as a refugee for two weeks in the country’s burgeoning asylum bureaucracy.
The 31-year-old, known as Mr L, spoke only Mandarin. German authorities discovered their mistake after turning in desperation to a local Chinese restaurant to interpret for them, a Red Cross official said on Monday.
Christoph Schlütermann, an official with the German Red Cross, which runs the home, told DPA news on Monday that the man “set machinery in motion that he couldn’t get out of”.
“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 Heidelberg, the man went to the town hall, which he thought was a police station, where he signed an asylum application. He was then taken 220 miles (360km) to a refugee shelter in Dülmen and given food and spending money like other refugees. “He simply did what he was told,” Schlütermann said.
More than one million refugees have arrived in Germany in the last year, fleeingwar and poverty in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. There has been only a tiny number of Chinese asylum seekers over the years, Schlütermann said.
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,” said Schlütermann. “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.”
With help from a translation app and then from a translator at a Chinese restaurant, it became clear that the man wanted to travel on to France and Italy, not seek asylum. It took German officials 12 days to put the story together and send him on his way, Schlütermann said.
“It was an extraordinary moment for us all. He said Europe was not what he had expected,” said Schlütermann, adding that the man was happy to leave but not upset. “What would you expect if you had come to Europe as a tourist and spent 12 days sleeping on a camping bed in a refugee centre?”