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.
He had scraped together his last $325 for the flight to Iraq — a small fraction of the money he had paid to smugglers last summer to get to Germany by foot, bus and boat through Turkey, Greece, the Balkans and Austria.
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…