Berlin: The first thing that Leith Khdeir Abbas, a 27-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker who arrived in Germany four months ago, plans to do after he makes the return journey on Wednesday is to kneel down and kiss the soil that he calls home.
“I fled to Germany to build my future. But I realised I can’t build it on fake promises,” he said at Berlin’s Tegel airport where he and some 50 similarly disenchanted young Iraqi men were about to board an Iraqi Airways plane to Erbil in northern Iraq.
A growing number of Iraqi refugees in Germany are choosing to return to their war-torn country, frustrated with a slow asylum process in a country overwhelmed by the influx of 1.1 million asylum seekers last year, most still living in shelters.
“I feel homesick and humiliated,” said Abbas, waving his arms in frustration as he recalled the poor conditions at a Berlin shelter with unhygienic toilets and bland food.
The trip to Germany from his home city of Baghdad cost him $4,000, including a fee for smugglers who put him on a boat from Turkey to Greece, where he and hundreds of asylum seekers embarked on a weeks-long trek to Germany via the Balkans and Austria.
German Interior Ministry data show that the number of Iraqis choosing to return home began rising in September, when 61 left, up from about 10 in each of the first seven months of the year. In December the number of Iraqi returnees topped 200.
That is still a fraction of the almost 30,000 who applied for asylum in Germany last year, accounting for the fifth largest group after Syrians, Albanians, Kosovars and Afghans.
But the trend highlights the harsh reality for asylum seekers fleeing conflicts in the Middle East. They come to Germany dreaming of a better future only to find out that a host country known for its efficient bureaucracy and wealth is struggling to accommodate a large number of newcomers.
“It is sad to see so many young men going back to a war zone,” said Andesha Karim, an Iraqi Airways representative at Tegel. The airline operates three weekly flights to Iraq from Berlin, Duesseldorf and Frankfurt.