Feeling ‘rejected’ in Germany, Iraqis return home
Baghdad - “It was too cold — both the weather and the people. I had imagined that life would be different and that work would be available as well as means of recreation,” says Salar Hama.
The 20-year-old Iraqi student is among thousands of war-weary migrants who made the perilous journey to Europe dreaming of a better life but who have since returned to Iraq.
“I did not want to stay in Sweden, which I reached with the help of smugglers. I just could not integrate in an extremely closed and aloof society,” Hama said. “I felt so homesick and humiliated that I decided to return to Erbil,” he said referring to the capital of the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq.
Although it cost him about $6,000 to get to Sweden, money he borrowed from his brother, Hama said he did not regret returning to Iraq only three months later. “I just could not put up with the people there, despite the many services that were available, and which I will miss here,” he said.
Journalist Mohamad Abdallah, 30, did not have an option except to return home after he was denied asylum in Germany, which has seen an influx of 1.1 million migrants.
Abdallah bitterly complains of Germany rejecting him. “I had turned my back to everything, including a successful job, in order to go to Germany to build my future, as the situation in Iraq became unbearable,” he said. “It was a strenuous, life-threatening journey through Turkey and Europe that led to nothing.”
Abdallah said his asylum application was rejected just as he had started to adapt to his new life. “It was shocking and most distressing. I had gotten used to living safely and without fear from the unknown,” he said. He did not say why he was refused asylum.
A growing number of Iraqi refugees in European countries are choosing to return to their war-torn country, frustrated with a slow asylum process, shattered expectations and ineligibility to file for political asylum.
Masrour Aswad, of the Iraqi Commission of Human Rights, said 4,000 migrants have returned to Iraq over the past six months after suffering humiliation in European refugee camps.
“Most Iraqi migrants who went to Europe live in very bad conditions in overcrowded camps, suffering humiliation and bad treatment,” Aswad said. “We had to issue temporary travel documents for those who wanted to return but had no papers at all.”
He said the commission interceded with countries along the migrants’ paths to show compassion, understanding and respect to refugees who left their homes because of life-threatening situations.
“We have also contacted all Iraqi diplomatic missions in those countries, as well as international organisations, stressing the need to monitor the conditions of migrants,” Aswad said. He added the commission pleaded with asylum countries to differentiate between people displaced from areas under Islamic State (ISIS) control and those seeking asylum for less dangerous reasons.
Still, Hakim Hamdan, who left his native Mosul when ISIS seized the area, had his asylum application in Germany rejected, forcing him to return to Iraq.
“I have suffered many calamities. First when I settled in a refugee camp in Dohuk (Iraqi Kurdistan) after fleeing my city and then when my application was rejected after going through the trouble of crossing to Europe,” Hamdan said.
He said the Germans gave no reason for rejecting his asylum request. “They just gave me a short notice to leave the country. My desire to live safely without fear from ISIS or other militias pushed me to leave Iraq. We don’t know what will happen to us now,” added Hamdan, who is married with two children.
ISIS’s seizure of several regions in Iraq and the government’s inability to liberate them, in addition to lack of jobs and work opportunities, are driving the young generation out, Ashwaq al-Jaff, a member of Parliament, said.
She acknowledged the government’s responsibility in exacerbating the Iraqi migration crisis by failing to resolve chronic economic and political woes. “Iraqi youth have become totally disheartened by persisting political struggles and rampant violence which shattered their hopes for a better future,” Jaff said.
While migrants who made it to Europe have the option to return to Iraq, those who died on the way may not be repatriated for burial at home, Aswad revealed.
“There are some 400 bodies of Iraqi migrants who drowned in the Aegean sea in hospital morgues in Greek islands,” he said. “Complicated bureaucracy and high cost [have] prevented their repatriation though it is a very sensitive and emotional matter for their families.”
European countries, overwhelmed by the influx of the refugees, have been taking measures to stem the migrant flow. The harshest measure was adopted by Denmark, which approved a controversial law empowering authorities to seize cash and valuables worth more than 10,000 Danish kroner ($1,450) from asylum seekers to help cover expenses.