Thousands of Iraqi refugees who arrived in Finland last year are returning home voluntarily, after becoming disillusioned with their new lives in the Nordic country. Many have said they would rather die in their homelands than endure the hostility they face from locals in the host country, while others cited family issues as another reason for leaving.
Officials said about 4,100 asylum seekers had so far cancelled their asylum applications after struggling to adapt to the cold weather. That figure is expected to increase to 5,000 in the coming months.
Somalia-born Muhiadin Hassan who runs a travel agency said he is now selling 15 to 20 flights to Baghdad every day. "It's been busy here for the past few months," he explained. Alsaedi Hussein, who bought a ticket back to war-torn Baghdad said: "My baby boy is sick, I need to get back home." Nearly 80 percent of the migrants returning home are Iraqis.
Tobias van Treeck, programme officer at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) told Mail Online that migrants were disappointed by their experiences in their host country. "Some say the conditions in Finland and the lengthy asylum process did not meet their expectations, or what they had been told by the people they paid for their travel."
Finland has little experience of mass immigration and hostility towards refugees is widespread. The country has seen the number of asylum seekers increase nearly tenfold in 2015 to 32,500 from 3,600 in 2014, and had been preparing to reject up to 20,000 asylum seekers from 2015. Stringent immigration policies have been implemented, requiring working-age asylum seekers to do some unpaid work.
"The number of returnees is increasing steadily ... All asylum seekers are informed about the options for voluntary return and about the available financial assistance"' said Paivi Nerg, a senior official in the Finnish interior ministry.
While most Iraqi returnees pay for their own flight home or seek help from Iraq's embassy in Helsinki, Finland will begin chartering flights to Baghdad from next week to take them home. The charter flights will carry up to 100 passengers back to Baghdad from Helsinki every week for as long as demand lasts, officials said.
Last year, the Finnish government and the IOM provided financial help to 631 returnees and a similar number is expected this year.
In Germany too, which took in 1.1 million people in 2015, small numbers of Iraqi refugees are choosing to go home. Disgruntled by the long asylum application process, far-right violence and paltry conditions at temporary shelters in Germany, many migrants returned to Iraq on 27 January. Women, children and men arrived in the northern Kurdish city of Erbil on one-way travel documents issued by the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin.
Belgium has also flown more than 100 Iraqi migrants back to Baghdad after they volunteered to be repatriated.
Europe is in the grip of its worst migrant crisis since World War Two, with more than a million people fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East.