A Chinese tourist in Germany ended up in a refugee home for nearly two weeks after accidentally signing an asylum application form. The man had intended to file a report about his missing wallet.
The 31-year-old backpacker from China, who spoke neither German nor English, said he had wanted to report his wallet missing to police in the southwestern city of Heidelberg, a popular tourist haunt. But he unwittingly ended up filing for asylum when he was handed the wrong form, and signed it.
He was soon placed in a shelter in Dülmen near the western city of Dortmund in early July - where his passport was taken from him, as the "machinery kicked into gear from which he couldn't immediately escape," Christoph Schlütermann of the German Red Cross (DRK) told the German DPA news agency. The man reportedly complied with standard procedure for refugees, which included his fingerprints being taken, undergoing a medical examination and accepting pocket money. Questions were only raised when staff began to notice that the man was unusually well-dressed for an asylum seeker.
"It seems there was a great deal of submission to authority involved on his end. He simply did what he was told," Schlütermann remarked about the case of mistaken identity.
A comedy of errors
Worried about a mistake, they sought help at a local Chinese restaurant, where the Chinese tourist managed to express his situation using a Mandarin language translation app. Comments translated to messages like "I wish to go walking in Italy" ultimately made officials realize their error.
Once alarmed about the mistake, authorities scrambled everything in their power together to process the case properly and dismiss the Chinese man from the custody of the Red Cross with his status as a refugee; however, to add insult to injury they failed to locate his visa in the central computer system used by immigration authorities, delaying the process even further.
Lost in translation
Twelve days into his ordeal, the reluctant refugee was finally discharged from the care of the Red Cross. He reportedly thanked everyone for the kind treatment he received and set off to travel further in France and Italy.
In 2016, Germany let in nearly 1.1 million migrants, creating an enormous challenge for its overstretched bureaucracy. Christoph Schlütermann, however, is sure that a case like this is a first - adding that if no one had dug deeper, the Chinese national might have been stuck at the refugee shelter for up to a year.
ss/msh (AFP, AP, dpa)