Iraqi migrants, fed up with the long asylum application process, far-right violence and paltry conditions at temporary shelters in Germany, returned back 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.
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 in 2015, most still living in shelters.
German Interior Ministry data show that the number of Iraqis choosing to return home began rising in September last year, 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. For one Kurdish woman who returned with her two small children, the situation in Germany was even worse than in Iraq.
"Food was bad and very little. They used to give us a piece of cold bread and cheese and a piece of a cucumber. How can one survive a cold winter on such food? Our children were crying of hunger. We spent $11,000 and we returned back empty handed," she said. "I regret going there. I wish we have not. I wish we had drowned in the sea and we had never gone there," she added in tears.
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. For many of the returning migrants, the dream of living in Germany had not matched the reality.
"Regrettably, I have not seen what I have been dreaming of seeing. I went there to live, but instead I was about to lose my life. I suffered from depression there, so I decided to return back. Human rights in Europe, which world organisations talk about, do not exist there," said one returnee at Erbil airport.
Erbil is outside the territory under Islamic State (Isis) control and has not seen heavy conflict, although militant bomb attacks occur regularly in the Iraqi capital. Most of those returning to Erbil on Wednesday were travelling on one-way travel documents issued by the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin.
Additional reporting by Reuters.