Lost in translation: Chinese tourist taken for refugee in Germany

BERLIN (AFP- - A Chinese tourist got tangled up in the red tape of Germany's migrant influx by mistake and was stuck in a refugee home for nearly two weeks, the Red Cross said on Monday.

Officials thought the 31-year-old backpacker, who spoke neither German nor English, "needed help" after landing in Stuttgart airport in southwestern Germany on July 4, Christoph Schluetermann of the German Red Cross told AFP.

The man, who had lost his wallet, was taken to a reception centre in the nearby town of Heidelberg, where he unwittingly filled out an asylum request form, following the local authorities' instructions, Schluetermann said.

Then on July 6, he was transferred to a reception centre in the western city of Dortmund, where his passport was taken from him, and then to another shelter in Duelmen near the Dutch border.

"Machinery kicked into gear from which he couldn't immediately escape," Schluetermann told news agency DPA.

Public broadcaster WDR said the man complied with standard procedure for refugees including allowing his fingerprints to be taken, undergoing a medical examination and accepting pocket money.

But staff eventually noticed that the man was unusually well-dressed for an asylum seeker and when the likelihood of a mistake dawned on them, sought help at a local Chinese restaurant.

The owners suggested Schluetermann try using a Mandarin smartphone translation app and it soon became clear that the man didn't want asylum but to continue his European tour.

"I want to go walking in a foreign country," one of the translated messages said, WDR reported.

Twelve days into his stay in Germany, the man was able to set off for France and Italy.

Germany let in nearly 1.1 million migrants and refugees last year, posing an enormous challenge for its overstretched bureaucracy.

"It isn't how I imagined Europe," WDR cited the tourist as saying.