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Chinese Tourist Wanted Vacation, Not Asylum

A Chinese tourist just wanted to travel Europe. But he got robbed in Germany, and because he couldn't communicate with officials, he signed the wrong paperwork, and ended up in a refugee facility.

The man, whose name has not been revealed by authorities, spent over a week in the facility in a small town in North Rhine-Westphalia because the German authorities just wanted to help.

Some details of the odyssey remain unclear, but Christoph Schluetermann, a Red Cross official at the refugee home in the city of Duelmen, tells NPR this is what seems to have happened.

The man arrived at the airport in Stuttgart. His wallet was stolen (or possibly lost), and he turned to the police. At least, that is what he thought. Maybe it was customs, maybe it was the immigration office.

The man was alone and did not speak any English or German. In the end, he signed a paper that would lead to an application for asylum instead of a police report for robbery. German officials put him on a bus to Heidelberg where asylum seekers are processed. His passport was taken.

The journey continued to the German northwestern city of Dortmund. From there, refugees are allocated to different cities. Four days after his arrival in Germany, the man landed in Duelmen.

There, the Red Cross's Schluetermann got suspicious. The man was well-dressed and he was upset instead of relieved. So Schluetermann used a language app to translate questions into Mandarin and got help from a local Chinese restaurant. Finally, some real communication: the alleged refugee wanted to travel and "go for a walk in Italy" but couldn't escape the bureaucracy without his passport.

Schluetermann's employees called consulates and public authorities to get the passport back and cancel the application for asylum. It turned out that once you are called a refugee, it is not too easy to take that back. Furthermore, German officials seemed to have difficulty finding his tourist visa in the digital system.

Eventually, the man was allowed to resume his journey.

Schluetermann says, after 16 days in Germany, the man left without filing a police report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Yvonne Muther