‘The procedure is so long’: Hundreds of asylum seekers choose to return to Iraq and Afghanistan

More than 800 Iraqi asylum seekers abandoned their plans to settle in Belgium this year and opted to return to Iraq instead.

The phenomenon, which Le Soir newspaper describes as “disconcerting”, started to gather pace in September, when 141 Iraqis volunteered to abandon their Belgian asylum application and fly home. The number rose to 325 in October and 248 in November, and the total for 2015 so far stands at 804, Le Soir added.

The newspaper said the “uncertainty of obtaining refugee status in Belgium” was one of the main reasons given for the voluntary returns, as well as having sick family members in Iraq who needed care.

Between January and October, Belgium received 6,906 asylum requests from Iraqi nationals, meaning about 11 percent of applicants chose to return home under the voluntary return scheme.

The trend also applies to Afghan migrants, one of whom told Le Soir: “I’m going back for family reasons, but also because I’m disappointed with the welcome I received in Belgium. I spent three nights sleeping outside before I could even get into the immigration office. The procedure is so long.”

Le Soir added that claimants from Baghdad had a reduced chance of obtaining asylum in Belgium, after the country’s Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons changed its guidance in October and classified Baghdad as “safe”.