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HELSINKI – Thousands of Iraqi refugees who arrived in Finland last year have decided to cancel their asylum applications and to return home voluntarily, citing family issues and disappointment with life in the frosty Nordic country.
Europe is in the grip of its worst migrant crisis since World War Two, with more than a million people arriving last year, fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East and beyond.
Germany and Finland’s neighbour Sweden has taken in many of the migrants but Finland too saw the number of asylum seekers increase nearly tenfold in 2015 to 32 500 from 3 600 in 2014.
Almost two thirds of the asylum seekers last year were young Iraqi men, but some are now having second thoughts, so Finland will begin chartering flights to Baghdad from next week to take them home.
Officials said about 4 100 asylum seekers had so far cancelled their applications and that number was likely to reach 5 000 in the coming months.
“My baby boy is sick, I need to get back home,” said Alsaedi Hussein, buying a flight back to Baghdad at a small travel agency in Helsinki.
Somalia-born Muhiadin Hassan who runs the travel agency said he was now selling 15 to 20 flights to Baghdad every day.
“It’s been busy here for the past few months,” he said.
A majority of the home-bound migrants have told immigration services they want to return to their families, but some expressed disappointment with life in Finland.
“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,” said Tobias van Treeck, programme officer at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
Echoing that comment, travel agent Hassan said: “Some say they don’t like the food here, it’s too cold or they don’t feel welcome in Finland. There are many reasons.”
Nearly 80 per cent of the migrants returning home are Iraqis. Just 22 of the 877 Syrians – whose country is racked by civil war – and 35 of the 5 214 Afghans who sought asylum in Finland last year have asked to return to their home country.(Reuters)