Disappointed with Europe, Thousands of Iraqi Migrants Return Home

Tim Arango, New York Times, February 4, 2016

Night after night, Mohammed al-Jabiry tossed and turned in his bed at a refugee center in Finland, comparing life in Europe with life in Baghdad. After many sleepless nights, he decided to come home.

“In Iraq, I can find a girl to marry,” Mr. Jabiry, 23, reasoned. “And my mom is here.”

There were little things, too, that drove him to return, like the high price of cigarettes and the chillier weather. “In Europe, I was isolated,” he said. “Life in Europe was not what we were expecting.”

Last year, beckoned by news reports of easy passage to Europe through Turkey, tens of thousands of Iraqis joined Syrians, Africans and Afghans in the great migrant wave to the Continent. Now, thousands of Iraqis are coming home.

Many say they arrived in Europe with unrealistic expectations for quick success. {snip}

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The returnees largely reflect another segment of migration: those who left Baghdad for economic reasons, or merely out of curiosity after seeing so many reports of migrants arriving joyously on the shores of Europe.

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As the days stretched into months–time [Mr. Jabiry] said he mostly spent working out at the gym, or aimlessly hanging out with other Iraqis in the refugee center–he realized it would be a long time before he could get a job or a home of his own.

Last summer, Facebook was filled with posts about making the trip. Now, some Iraqis in Europe are turning to social media to warn their countrymen away. {snip}

The International Organization for Migration said it helped almost 3,500 Iraqis return home last year–just a portion of the overall number coming back, as many do so with the assistance of local governments or Iraqi Embassies in European countries.

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“Our dream was to leave the country,” said Haitham Abdulatif, 48, who sold his Mercedes for $8,000 to pay for the trip he took with his 10-year-old daughter. “It was the talk everywhere–on TV, on social media.”

Mr. Abdulatif was an officer in Saddam Hussein’s army, but after the invasion by the United States in 2003, and the subsequent policy of de-Baathification, he was left without a pension. Then he was caught up in tragedy, like most Iraqis: Three brothers were killed during the sectarian civil war. But he has an aunt and cousin who live in the United States, and their stories motivated him to think of life elsewhere.

“They would always describe to me how living outside the country was different from living in Iraq,” he said. “They are comfortable. They are safe. There are job opportunities.”

He arrived in Belgium with this in mind: “I was expecting them to give me a house, a good job, so I could have a better life. This is what I was dreaming about.”

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Finally, he went to the camp authorities and said, “I want to go to Iraq.”

“They were surprised,” he said. “But I told them I’d rather die in my country than die outside in a strange country.”

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