sábado, 6 de fevereiro de 2016

Frustrated by Germany, Iraqi migrants beat a path back home

February 5, 2016 6:58 am
Frustrated by Germany, Iraqi migrants beat a path back home
Guy Chazan in Berlin

Asu Hassan is throwing in the towel. Frustrated by bureaucratic hold-ups, money troubles and months spent living in an overcrowded gym, he is leaving his new home in Germany and returning to Iraq.
“Since I was a child I dreamt of Germany,” the 31-year-old mechanic says. “Now my dream is never to have to see it again.”

Mr Hassan is one of hundreds of Iraqis who reached safe haven in Berlin after a perilous, months-long journey to the heart of Europe but are now heading in the opposite direction. It is a measure of his disenchantment that he is willing to trade a new life in one of the world’s richest and most stable countries for the violence and insecurity of his homeland.
“In a year there will be no Iraqis left here,” Mr Hassan says.
In Berlin’s Tegel airport, queues form at the check-in counter for Iraqi Airways, which operates three weekly flights from Germany to Iraq. Andesha Karim, an airline official, says around half the passengers — 150 people a week — are returning refugees. Demand is growing: plans are afoot to double the number of flights.
The volume of returnees is a mere trickle compared to those staying. More than 30,000 of the more than 1.1m refugees Germany welcomed last year were Iraqis, making them the largest group of migrants after Syrians, Albanians, Kosovars and Afghans.
But the outflow reflects growing disenchantment with life in the west, where social services have been stretched to breaking point by the massive influx of foreigners. Even in Germany, a country that prides itself on its reputation for efficiency, authorities are struggling to cope.
For the German government, the reverse exodus is a small piece of good news in what has otherwise been a confounding crisis. With citizens increasingly clamouring for authorities to get a grip on the situation, Chancellor Angela Merkel gave assurances last month that she expected large numbers of migrants to return home once peace was restored in Syria and Isis defeated in Iraq. Some 70 per cent of refugees fleeing the wars in Yugoslavia for Germany in the 1990s ultimately went home.
CHART: Applications for asylum in Germany in 2015
Officials have therefore seized on the reverse-flow to Iraq. Peter Altmaier, Ms Merkel’s chief of staff, said last week that 2,000 Iraqis had voluntarily returned home since December, largely because Isis had in recent months “lost a third of its territory”.
The German government has encouraged people to return by offering to pay for their tickets home. Last year, some 37,000 people signed up for its voluntary repatriation programme, nearly three times as many as in 2014. More than 700 were Iraqis. (Syria is not included in the scheme because it is too dangerous).
Meanwhile, hundreds of other Iraqis are leaving under their own steam. The Iraqi embassy in Berlin has issued some 1,400 one-way travel documents for returnees since the end of October.
Alaa Hadrous owns a Middle East-focused travel agency and jewellery shop in Berlin, where some Iraqis sell their last remaining valuables to pay for the €250 ticket home.
“Their expectations were too high,” he says. “They thought as soon as they got here they would be given a flat, money, free healthcare. They didn’t realise they would have to wait days even to register — and then live in a hostel for months.”
CHART: Voluntary repatriations from Germany to Iraq
Sa’ad Rubeyi, a former soldier in the Iraqi army now about to board a flight back to Baghdad, says he lost patience after waiting five months to obtain asylum. He says that for the last two months he’s received none of the pocket money all refugees are entitled to.
“Merkel’s mistake was to say ‘you’re all welcome here’,” he says. “She should have been honest and said, ‘We don’t want you, we can’t take you all in, we can’t cope’.”
There is no evidence so far that recent Iraqi migrants are less able to adapt to life in Germany than other newcomers from the Middle East. Some suspect the affordability and availability of direct flights home has played a role in their decision to leave.
The returnees’ problems are often specific to Berlin. The city’s State Office for Health and Social Affairs, known by its German acronym LaGeSo, has become a byword for administrative chaos: asylum-seekers have often had to wait days to register there for access to healthcare, housing and welfare benefits.
Things have improved at LaGeSo since a management shake-up in December, with most waits cut from days to hours and heated tents installed to shelter applicants. But Asu Hassan, who arrived in Germany from Diyala province, north-east of Baghdad, last September after an odyssey that consumed his $7,000 life savings, sees little change.
For four months, he says, he lived in a “dirty, overcrowded” school gym together with 300 others. There were three showers and three toilets for all and only intermittent hot water. “I lost all hope of getting out of there,” he says. By the time of his departure he was still waiting for a residence permit and ID. “We didn’t run away from Isis to be treated like this,” he says.
The complaints are seeping back to Iraq and could be one reason fewer people are making the trek to Germany of late. In January, around 18,500 Iraqi asylum-seekers registered here, 10,000 fewer than in December.
Sherzad Salah Hassan is returning to Sinjar, a town in northern Iraq which was retaken by Kurdish peshmerga forces from Isis last November. His house was destroyed in the fighting and his wife and three children are still living in tents, but that is not deterring him. Having waited five months in Germany for his official papers, he says, it is time to call it quits.
“I’m not disappointed in Germany,” he says. “The people are good. But they’re obviously overstretched.”

Additional reporting by Stefan Wagstyl

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