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Chinese tourists

Chinese backpacker spends 12 days in German refugee camp after wallet is stolen and confusion ensues

Tourist says ‘Europe is not what he expected’, after filling out form claiming asylum by mistake

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 7:51am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 9:06pm

An unnamed Chinese tourist visiting Germany ended up touring the country’s refugee system for almost a fortnight instead after his wallet was stolen at the airport, according to reports in the German media.

The strange journey began when the backpacker - a 31-year-old identified as Mr L - had just arrived in the southwestern city of Stuttgart. Hoping to report the theft, he searched for a police station, the broadcaster WDR reports.

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However, due to an unspecified mixup, he ended up speaking to refugee authorities in the city of Heidelberg, over an hour’s drive away from Stuttgart. There he filled out an asylum application and was taken to a reception centre in Dortmund and later to a refugee home in Duelmen - meaning he was now over four hours away from Stuttgart.

To make matters worse, the Chinese citizen’s passport and visa were confiscated by authorities, who instead gave him refugee documentation.

“He set the wheels of a machine in motion that he could not initially escape from,” Christoph Schluetermann of the German Red Cross told the DPA news agency.

The man, who spoke neither German or English, was unable to explain his situation. Instead, he complied with what he was told and ended up spending a week in the refugee camp with little protest. Eventually, the 31-year-old’s well-dressed appearance caught the attention of employees of the German Red Cross, who run the Duelmen refugee home.

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“He was different from the others - very, very helpless,” Schluetermann told the DPA.

While their initial attempts to converse with him failed due to the language barrier, Schluetermann enlisted the help of a local Chinese restaurant, who pointed him toward a Putonghua translation app. It was only then that the mixup was discovered, with the tourist telling Scluetermann that he did not want to claim asylum and that he instead wanted to “go walking in Italy,” according to the Duelmener Zeitung.

Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic surge in the number of refugees and migrants coming to Europe, often traveling routes over the Mediterranean from the Middle East or Africa.

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Germany alone saw more than 1.1 million migrant arrivals in 2015, often stretching the country’s asylum system far beyond what it was designed for.

Authorities told reporters that this appeared to be a unique situation, driven by a series of unusual circumstances. It took 12 days for the situation to be rectified.

“He spent 12 days trapped in our bureaucratic jungle because we couldn’t communicate,” Schluetermann said. “Germany is unfortunately an extremely bureaucratic country. Especially during the refugee crisis I’ve seen how much red tape we have.”

Despite the delay, the unnamed tourist apparently had no complaints.

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

According to WDR, after leaving the refugee home the man resumed his trip around Europe.

Additional reporting by Agenmce France-Presse