A Chinese tourist who was robbed in Germany unknowingly applied for asylum when the language barrier prevented him from communicating what had happened.
The man, known only as Mr. L, went to the town hall in Heidelberg after his wallet was taken, intending to report the theft at what he thought was a police station. But because no one could understand his explanation of what happened, the man inadvertently signed an application for asylum. The Mandarin-speaking man was then transported 220 miles to a refugee shelter in the northern town of Duelmen.
He spent 12 days in what Christoph Schluetermann, head of the Red Cross center in Duelmen, called “our bureaucratic jungle.”
"Germany is unfortunately an extremely bureaucratic country,” Schluetermann told Reuters. “Especially during the refugee crisis, I've seen how much red tape we have."
The man, 31, was fingerprinted and given a medical exam, in addition to receiving food and spending money like other refugees in the shelter. Schluetermann said he stood out because he was well dressed and “acted so differently” than other refugees.
Germany has received over 1 million refugees in the last year, as it has become the country of choice for those fleeing violence and persecution in their own countries. According to the Pew Research Center, the country received 442,000 formal asylum applications, with the majority of refugees coming from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Europe as a whole has struggled to deal with the refugee crisis, squabbling over how many refugees each country should be responsible for taking in.
“He kept trying to talk to people to tell his story but no one could understand him,” Schluetermann said, noting that only a small number of Chinese asylum seekers reached Germany over the years. “He kept asking to get his passport back, which is the opposite of what most refugees do."
Eventually, authorities enlisted the help of staff at a local Chinese restaurant to translate for the man, who then left the country.