No passport, no money and no way to get home

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 March, 2012, 12:00am


Penniless German citizen Ewald Widiner has to have one of the most bizarre applications for refugee status the city has seen.

Mired in a bureaucratic nightmare, the 62-year-old has been stranded in Hong Kong for more than a year and reduced to squatting in a building on Lamma Island because the German consulate refuses to give him a new passport.

Widiner says he wants to return to the mainland where he has taught English and German since 2004, but without a passport his employer cannot renew his work visa.

The trouble began in 2010, when 51Education, the Shanghai company for whom he worked, agreed to renew his work visa but there was no space left in his passport to put it. A German passport holder all his life, Widiner went to the German consulate in Shanghai to get a new one.

However, the red tape was such that his original mainland work visa ran out and he had to come to Hong Kong instead to apply for his new passport. But his application submitted to the consulate in Hong Kong was rejected and a new passport has still not been issued.

Widiner claims the consulate did this because he apparently had an outstanding unpaid tax bill in Germany. 'They told me there was a taxation problem, but I wrote to the relevant tax authorities in Germany, and they said there was no reason why the consulate should not give me a passport,' he said.

'I've tried every avenue since then and got no help. I may as well kill myself.'

Widiner thinks there may be another reason for his rejection. He said that in recent years he had been writing a blog heavily critical of Germany's negative view of China and that may have caused political issues.

Estranged from his family and without influential friends, Widiner had no option but to stay in the city and live off his savings while he tried to sort out the problem.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees initially said he could claim refugee status, but after processing his claim they turned him down as his circumstances did not match their criteria for aid.

His employers on the mainland are hoping that he will return and confirmed that if he did he would still have a job. 'He has worked for us since 2009 and is very good at his job. The pupils love him and miss him a lot,' 51Education director Sara Chen Tian said. 'I have stayed in contact with him and hope that his passport problems can be solved, so he can continue to work with us.'

Widiner was still listed on the company website as part of their teaching staff.

In the meantime, he has lost more than 30kg, given up his flat in Shanghai and run out of money.

'I'm now relying on the kindness of my neighbours on Lamma to keep going, but I don't know how much longer I can keep going for,' he said.

Despite his giving the Sunday Morning Post permission to ask the German consulates in Hong Kong and Shanghai for the details on his case, neither would comment.

Achim Schkade, deputy consul general for the Federal Republic of Germany in Hong Kong, said: 'Pertinent legal regulations on privacy and data protection do not allow us to discuss single cases with a third party. These regulations apply in the best own interest of those concerned.'

A spokeswoman for the German consulate in Shanghai gave the same explanation.