Erik Kirschbaum, Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2016
With a one-way ticket home to Iraq in his hands and seven months’ worth of frustration over intransigent German bureaucracy in his heart, Gazwan Abdulhasen Abdulla gave up on his dreams of a better life in Europe.
Homesick and eager to be back with his wife and four small children in Basra, Abdulla was giving up his refugee status as he boarded a crowded Iraqi Airways flight from Berlin’s Tegel Airport to Baghdad that would whisk him and 150 other disillusioned former refugees back home in five hours.
But now, after more than 1.1 million refugees from troubled lands such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have trekked into Germany over the last 13 months, a small but growing number are heading home.
The reasons are myriad, but include overcrowded refugee centers, exasperating bureaucracy, unfamiliar German food, a lack of jobs and a spreading sense of resentment from Germans who fear their country is being overrun by Muslims.
Many refugees say they are now happy to trade a cold, heartless and lonely life in one of Europe’s richest countries for the violence, insecurity and poverty back home. And they say they have realized, rather belatedly, that smugglers had sold them a pack of lies about big houses, well-paying jobs and the life of luxury they would find in Germany.
“I wanted to live in peace with my family as far away from war as possible,” said Abdulla, a 37-year-old who had worked as a truck driver in Iraq. “But what I’ve seen in Europe is not what I dreamed about. It’s not what [the smugglers] told me it would be.
“The food was terrible, so disgusting that not even animals should be fed it. They made us sleep in these cold, empty buildings and when someone said they were sick, they just ignored us. You could feel it everywhere that Germans looked down at us like we were bums. I miss my family and can’t wait to get home.”
Abdulla, like many of the refugees, had come to Germany on his own and figured his family could follow. But the German government, fearful that the number of refugees could increase fourfold if families were reunited, temporarily suspended the rules last year that allowed refugees to send for their family members.
Now it could take two to five years or more before their families might be allowed to move to Germany–an intolerable wait that is one of the main reasons that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of refugees are giving up on Germany every week, even as up to 3,000 arrive every day.
The Iraqi Embassy in Berlin has issued more than 1,500 one-way travel documents for Iraqi refugees giving up on Germany in the last three months.
“There are a lot of Iraqis going home, but more and more Syrians are also coming in here to buy airplane tickets to fly back home,” said Alaa Hadrous, 24, who came to Germany from Iraq as a child and now operates the Golf Reisen travel office next to a refugee center in the heart of Berlin.
The government’s office for migration and refugees reported that 37,220 refugees obtained government financial aid to return to their home countries in 2015. Most of those were from countries in the Balkans and had little chance of being granted asylum. Only 724 of about 122,000 refugees from Iraq went home last year with German government assistance.
The migration agency points out, however, that it doesn’t have a complete overview because many refugees pay for their own trips home.