At a time when most kids are acclimating to junior high, Adeeb Ayoub found himself at the epicenter of the ongoing civil war in Syria. As violence began to escalate in 2015, Adeeb fled to Germany with his uncle, hoping to one day reunite with his other siblings and parents.
That never happened. So, two years later, the 13-year-old traveled back to his hometown of Aleppo at the urging of his parents, who were never able to leave the war-stricken country.
"When they did not reunite me with my family in Germany, I decided to come back. I went to the office there and asked to go back to Syria, but they rejected my request. I went back to them for a second time and they allowed me to leave. They gave me 500 euros and sent me back by plane."
Reuniting with family is just one of many reasons why a small, but growing number of Syrian refugees are returning back to the country they so desperately attempted to escape just a few years prior.
For Adeeb, cultural isolation served as a catalyst to his departure from Europe. Not only did he not have his family to lean on for support, but he was forced to navigate a foreign country without understanding the language at such a young age.
He continued in Arabic, "I will not go back because this is our country. If we go to another country, to Germany, the people there are not like us. They belong to a different religion."
It was a tearful reunion for Adeeb's parents, who welcomed him with open arms two years after he left Aleppo in the first place. The conditions of the war-stricken city have certainly improved since government forces recaptured the town back in December 2016, but airstrikes have left the city with crumbling infrastructure and dilapidated buildings.
And as puzzling as it may initially sound to run back to the country that forced you to flee, Adeeb is just one of thousands of refugees who fled the war but have since returned. In 2017, about 600,000 displaced Syrians went back home, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Thirty-six-year-old Ammar Maarawi had a similar story to Adeeb's. The tire shop owner packed his bags and set off for the perilous journey for Europe--a trek that hundreds of thousands of others would also endure by boat. Maarawi said he had to pay off smugglers before he had to travel across several European countries. The transaction, he added, left him feeling humiliated and helpless.
He eventually settled in Germany, but only lived there for six months before waves of homesickness and depression overcame him. Maarawi said he attempted to acclimate the best he could, even learning the language. But, for him, the transition was too much to bear. Six months later, Maarawi was back home.
"Living as a refugee is humiliating. If I get a work contract, I would go, but as a refugee-no," he continued. "You suffer psychological pressure, depression and it is cold."
Refugee organizations, however, emphasized their concern about the number of returnees, especially since Syria continues to witness high rates of displacement. From January to July 2017, more than 800,000 people were displaced, any for a second or third time, according to the United Nations.
And while Adeeb and Ammar's decision to leave Europe was entirely voluntary, government officials in Germany have already began discussing measures to forcibly repatriate refugees once their asylum period ends.
Since the Syrian crisis began in 2015, Germany has attempted to help alleviate the conflict by taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees, but those numbers have been in decline for the past three years. According to the Office of Migrants and Refugees, Germany welcomed 890,000 refugees in 2015, 280,000 in 2016, and 186,644 in 2017.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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