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Finding Europe Untenable, More Migrants Return To Their Home Countries

A woman from Afghanistan walks by a workshop at the shelter where they live in Sarstedt, Germany, in February.

The International Organization for Migration says more people are opting to voluntarily return to their home countries, rather than staying in host countries as migrants.

In a report released Friday, the IOM says it assisted more than 51,000 people leaving host countries, most of them leaving Europe, in the first six months of 2016. By comparison, the organization helped about 69,000 people in all of 2015.

If the current rate continues, 100,000 people are on track to leave host countries by the end of the year, the IOM says.

The top three countries people returned to are Albania, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the vast majority of people left Germany, which has been flooded with migrants in recent years. In 2015, Germany became the largest recipient of first-time individual asylum claims, when almost 442,000 people applied for asylum within its borders.

In Germany, one reaction has been to deport more people, and more quickly. Deutsche Welle reported earlier this year that the German government intends to deport about 27,000 people in 2016. "In Bavaria the deportations have risen significantly," Stephan Dünnwald of the Bavarian Refugee Council told the German news outlet in June. "The Bavarian interior minister is trying to force through at least one deportation flight a week."

Deutsche Welle reports the pace of deportations changes how the country treats asylum seekers from places like Afghanistan.

As NPR has reported, 150,000 Afghans arrived in Germany in 2015, less than half of whom the German government expects to qualify for asylum. NPR's Phil Reeves reported on one man who, despite the war in his home country and the thousands of dollars he paid a smuggler to get to Germany, returned to Kabul.

Reeves reports:

"The Germans are running a PR campaign in Afghanistan, trying to deter Afghans from traveling to their land. They've posted announcements on billboards, buses and the Internet, urging Afghans to think twice before setting off.

"Germany views many of the Afghans who've arrived on its soil as economic migrants seeking jobs or education.

"German officials maintain that under international law, Germany is not required to grant asylum to those migrants — unlike Syrians, who are fleeing a war zone.

"The United Nations estimates that last year, some 11,000 civilians were killed or injured by conflict in Afghanistan. Afghans say that bolsters proof that there is war in Afghanistan, too — and that Afghans should therefore be granted protection by European nations."

Some case studies of Iraqis collected by the IOM branch in Germany also cite trouble getting asylum and work as reasons for returning to Iraq. The IOM has a program in Germany designed specifically to assist people who say they want to go back to Iraqi Kurdistan.

One woman, referred to by the IOM as Peiman S., said she arrived in Germany in 2003, and learned German over the course of a decade there. But, although she was allowed to stay, Peiman was not officially allowed to work or study. She realized her asylum application was likely to be denied, and decided to voluntary return to Kurdistan.

The IOM report on voluntary returns comes as the organization also notes that more people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe than this time last year. More than 2,800 people have died trying to make the crossing since January. On Wednesday, a ship carrying hundreds of people capsized off the coast of Egypt.

On Friday, rescuers were still recovering bodies. The AP reports more than 150 people have been confirmed dead and that Egyptian officials say they have rescued 160 people. Survivors told CNN the ship was overfilled, carrying upwards of 500 people, when it sank.

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