At 25, Faisal Uday Faisal had high expectations when he packed his bags for Europe in September.
After quitting his job making tea and cleaning for the Ministry of Education in Baghdad, he set off to Turkey to join more than a million refugees and migrants who have made their way to the continent in the past year.

“My dream since I was a child was to go to Europe,” he said. “I was imagining a beautiful life, a secure life, with an apartment and a salary.”
But despite a grueling month-long journey to Sweden, he went back home, one of a surging number of returnees, Iraqi and international authorities say. The International Organization for Migration says it helped 779 Iraqis come back from Europe voluntarily in November, more than double the previous month, and those figures don’t include people like Faisal, who returned on his own.

Some have chosen to leave because they were confused about the asylum process, disillusioned with the lack of opportunities or homesick, while others were forced to go when their asylum claims were rejected.
“It was a boring life there, their food even a cat wouldn’t eat it,” Faisal said of his two months in an asylum center near the Swedish city of Malmo. “I went to Europe and discovered Europe is just an idea. Really, it’s just like Bab al-Sharji,” he said, referring to a Baghdad market neighborhood.
While some who come back of their own volition may not have been fleeing danger in the first place, aid agencies warn that legitimate asylum seekers are also being discouraged as Europe becomes less welcoming to newcomers and tries to tighten its borders. Finland and Belgium are among the countries that have warned arrivals from Baghdad that they won’t automatically receive asylum.
Faisal concedes that he left for economic reasons, the kind of asylum applicant European authorities are trying to sift out from those fleeing violence. He said he decided to “arrange a story” about being threatened by Iraqi militias. “If I was in danger, I wouldn’t have come back,” he said.
Faisal begged his father, who had already spent $8,000 on sending his sons to Europe, to send money so he could come home. “He missed the services here. At home everything is done for him,” said Faisal’s father, Uday Faisal Mohee.
“The problem is, the words Europe or America has such magic for the young people. This one is still affected even though he knows the reality,” he said, pointing to his younger son, who returned to Iraq after being detained in Turkey en route but still wishes to try again.
“There are thousands of Iraqis who have come back, and thousands more that want to,” said Sattar Nowruz, a spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement. Iraqi embassies in Europe are scrambling to provide emergency travel documents for those travelling back.

Aid agencies say asylum seekers are struggling to have their cases heard.
“Some authorities are encouraging applicants to return,” said Shannon Pfohman, head of policy for Caritas Europa, “implying that they won’t get asylum, won’t get a job and generally painting a bleak picture.”
A total of 35,000 refugees and migrants left Europe “voluntarily” from the beginning of the year to November, Pfohman said. “But really much of it is more forced. It’s not clear what extent it’s voluntary,” she said, adding that a further 17,000 were deported. 

Those fleeing certain countries are being increasingly lumped together, she said, whereas each claim should be individually assessed. But asylum systems are overwhelmed.
The uncertainty and often chaotic claims process has led even some of those fleeing the worst of the Islamic State’s atrocities to give up and return to a life of displacement. 

After spending $11,000 traveling to Germany, and four months waiting for his asylum claim to be processed there, Ibrahim Abdullah, a 42-year-old member of the minority Yazidi sect, returned to his camp in northern Iraq in October.