The Absolutely Insane Story Of The Chinese Tourist Who May Have Ended Up In A German Refugee Camp

It appears as though it did happen, but the why and how of it are very, very confusing.

On Monday, German website WDR reported a story about a Chinese man who accidentally ended up in a German refugee camp.

According to the website's report, a Chinese tourist was robbed shortly after he arrived at a Stuttgart airport in July. He tried to report the crime at what he thought was a police station near Heidelberg, but instead he reportedly ended up registering for asylum.

According to WDR, the man was bussed to Dortmund, where his passport and fingerprints were taken. Then he was taken to a refugee home in Dülmen. He was reportedly there a week before officials from the Red Cross noticed that the man appeared confused and out of place.

The report states that the man was taken to a local Chinese restaurant where it was determined he spoke Mandarin, and then with the help of a translation app, officials discovered he was not seeking asylum, but just wanted to travel to Europe.

The story was quickly picked up by multiple international outlets.

And after a few hours, Chinese media — the first outlets to report that the man is from Beijing — began to pick up the story as well.

"This 31-year-old Chinese tourist comes from Beijing. He only speaks Mandarin and doesn’t understand English or German. He had originally traveled to Europe on his own, intending to visit Germany first before continuing to Italy and France."

Then, on Wednesday, his story was even made into animation by Taiwanese news site Apple Daily.

However many details surrounding the story still remain unclear. As of this week, official statements from the towns involved have conflicting accounts of what happened. Here is what BuzzFeed News has been able to piece together.

In the earliest reports, the Chinese tourist was only being referred to as "Mr L." The Telegraph wrote:

Then Bild reported his first name as Junlieng. But it still didn't provide a complete surname.

The Shanghaiist then gave the man a surname, referring to him as Mr. Lu. But they didn't provide a source. All sites by the point were reporting his age as 31 years old.

Then a Reuters TV video published a scan of his passport, even though it still referred to him as Mr. L.

A spokesperson for Reuters TV told BuzzFeed News that it did not get a photo from nor talk to the Chinese citizen himself, as he had left already the refugee camp by that point. The spokesperson said it got the passport picture from Christoph Schluetermann, a member of the Red Cross who was working on the case.

BuzzFeed News attempted to contact Schluetermann, the German Red Cross member, but he told BuzzFeed News he could not comment about confidential information.

Every outlet reporting on this story is using the same blurred image, credited to a photographer named Marco Stepniak. When Stepniak was contacted by BuzzFeed News, he said he was unaware of the story.

Marco Stepniak

So this photo and the scan of passport remain the only photo evidence that the man might even exist. No news sites reporting the story were able to track down the man's social media accounts and only one — WDR — reported they interviewed him, but it still didn't provide a name. BuzzFeed News reached out to WDR for comment.

Later in the week, German sites began reporting that the man had help from a translator filling out his forms, so he actually knew full well what was happening to him.

"The Regional Council in Karlsruhe disagrees: A translator helped with filling out the form."

At this point, Chinese news site NTDTV claimed it had acquired the man's documentation, which showed a signature, proving his surname was not Lu but actually Liu.


And then another document reportedly obtained by Ifeng News apparently revealed his age was 30 and not 31, and that he was from Jilin, not Beijing.

Then on Wednesday, Liberty Taiwan also suggested that the man may have known he was applying for asylum because he appears to have filled out the form in Chinese. Also, to support this fact, a Chinese version of what appeared to be the form started circulating online.

Now Bild is trying to find Mr. L via an online campaign that's been posted in Mandarin. It's offering him a proper hotel room for his visit to Germany.

"Dear Junliang L, sorry that your holiday didn't really work out. Please contact us. We'll show you how beautiful Germany really is. Write an email to:"

Making this already confusing story even more so, the town of Heidelberg — the town WDR reported as having shipped the Chinese tourist off to a refugee camp — issued a statement saying the man was never robbed in the area, nor did he ever apply for asylum.

"Several media outlets are currently reporting about the case of a Chinese tourist, who apparently wrongly applied for asylum in Heidelberg and had to spend two weeks in a refugee camp in Northrhine-Westfalia.

"The city of Heidelberg hereby states: The city (council) never had contact with the tourist. He never spoke to any municipal office. A local authority district like Heidelberg doesn't accept applications for asylum, but refers people to the according points of contact. The first source of this report is, after investigation by the city council of Heidelberg, the 'Dülmener Zeitung' in NRW. The city council of Heidelberg has made the newspaper aware of this fact."

BuzzFeed News contacted the local councils that would have dealt with Mr. L.'s case and received conflicting reports of how exactly he arrived at the refugee home in Dülmen.

A representative for the city of Karlsruhe told BuzzFeed News the man was indeed in Heidelberg and that he had a translator with him when he signed initial documents. They also stated that he arrived with a group of other Chinese people.

Our authorities can confirm, that the man arrived with six other Chinese people in the afternoon on July 4, 2016, at our initial arrival center for refugees in Karlsruhe.

He as well as the six other Chinese people’s names were registered at the gate.

This center is exclusively for refugees. Therefore only people who claim that they want to apply for asylum would be given access.

On July 6, 2016, he was brought to our central registration center in Heidelberg.

These Centers are run by the Land of Baden-Württemberg, one of the 16 states in Germany.

In the refugee center in Heidelberg, he signed the official form, that he is asking for asylum. This is not yet an application for asylum, but an instruction what he is going to do.

He hereby was supported by a mandarin speaking translator from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge).

According to the distribution basis for refugees, he had to go to Dortmund, Nordrhein-Westfalen. Therefore, he left the next day.

For his trip to Dortmund he got a train ticket and got on the train by himself, that means, that he was not escorted.

After Karlsruhe, Mr. L. is said to have traveled to Dortmund. BuzzFeed News contacted the local council and was provided with another timeline of Mr. L.'s movement and more details. According to Dortmund council, here's Mr. L.'s timeline:

• July 6 — He registers in Karlsruhe and has his passport and visa taken. The EASY System — which records and distributes those who intend to apply for asylum — sends him to Dortmund. He buys his own train ticket and goes there.

• July 7 — He arrives in Dortmund at European Homecare and he signs and fills in all required paperwork, which is in "Chinese," according to the council.

• July 12 — He's transferred to Dülmen, where he waits to be homed.

• July 15 — The center in Dortmund receives an email from Dülmen asking for a copy of his papers. In the email is an attachment of a signed form saying Mr. L. wants to cancel his application to seek asylum due to an error. Dortmund still has no paperwork from Karlsruhe and begins to suspect something isn't right.

• July 25 — His paperwork from the Karlsruhe center arrives in Dortmund, including his passport and visa.

• July 26 — Dortmund sends a copy to Dülmen.

Dortmund council said that after Liu was freed, he was sent to Frankfurt to obtain new travel documents.

So, let's sum this all up.

Google Maps

A Chinese man filled out a form for political asylum in Karlsruhe, Germany, in July, then purchased a train ticket and traveled to Dortmund. Once in Dortmund, he was processed as a refugee and sent to a camp in Dülmen. He was in Dülmen for almost two weeks before authorities realized something was amiss and released him, sending him to Frankfurt.

In the ensuing media coverage, only one outlet appears to have spoken to him, but it didn't name him — and also got most of the initial facts wrong. German media, UK tabloids, and Chinese outlets all used a photo credited to a photographer who appears to have no knowledge of the story. The Red Cross refuses to comment on whether the scan of the man's passport is real. It's unclear where the Chinese man is currently. And even more perplexing, no one can agree on why he even filled out the forms in the first place. But yes, it appears as though a Chinese man was in fact accidentally sent to a German refugee camp.

Tl;dr: This man apparently exists and nobody knows anything for certain. But it's definitely not for lack of trying.



A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.