Homesick Iraqi refugees heading home to the warzone

Night after night, Mohammed al-Jabiry tossed and turned in his bed at a refugee centre in Finland, comparing life in Europe with life in Baghdad. After many sleepless nights, he decided to come home. “In Iraq, I can find a girl to marry,” Jabiry, 23, reasoned. “And my mum is here”. 

There were little things, too, that drove him to return, like the high price of cigarettes and the chillier weather. “In Europe, I was isolated”, he said. “Life in Europe was not what we were expecting”. Last year, beckoned by news reports of easy passage to Europe through Turkey, tens of thousands of Iraqis joined Syrians, Africans and Afghans in the great migrant wave to the Continent. 

Now, thousands of Iraqis are coming home. Many say they arrived in Europe with unrealistic expectations for quick success. Some also say the warm reception they received from Europeans last summer gave way to suspicion after the Islamic State terrorist attacks in Paris in November. 

Many Iraqis have stayed in Europe, of course, especially those who were displaced from lands controlled by the Islamic State, also known as IS, ISIS or ISIL. And others are still risking everything to cross the seas to get there. Last week, the bodies of five Iraqis who drowned in the Aegean Sea were returned to Kirkuk in northern Iraq. 

The returnees largely reflect another segment of migration: those who left Baghdad for economic reasons, or merely out of curiosity after seeing so many reports of migrants arriving joyously on the shores of Europe. When Jabiry left last summer, he said, “I was thinking, ‘I have no job here, and I never finished school'. I thought of a better future there - that I would find a better job, that I could continue my studies, earn more money.” 

He added: “I was crying the first day I arrived in Finland. Crying of happiness”. As the days stretched into months - time he said he mostly spent working out at the gym, or aimlessly hanging out with other Iraqis in the refugee centre - he realised it would be a long time before he could get a job or a home of his own. 

Last summer, Facebook was filled with posts about making the trip. Now, some Iraqis in Europe are turning to social media to warn their countrymen away. One video posted recently shows an Iraqi man complaining of the food in Europe and saying, “I'm just waiting for my flight to Baghdad, and I will be back soon. I would advise everyone not to take the risk and come to Europe”.

New York Times
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