BAGHDAD — The young Iraqi men thought they had good reason to enter Turkey: to escape their violent homeland and sneak to Sweden.
But their dreams came to an end at the Istanbul airport when two dozen of them had "Cancelled" stamped across their Turkish entry stamps by immigration officials.
With $700 each wasted on tickets, the despondent crew – some 25 men who had happened to travel on the same plane – flew back to Baghdad to greet families who had let them go with high hopes that they would settle abroad and then send for relatives.
"My parents don't believe [I was refused entry]," says a glazier called Hassan, whose upper-lip peach fuzz belies his 22 years. "They are angry. Not because of the lost money, but because I didn't make it. Now I prefer to die in Baghdad."
Hassan's family had long planned to leave. Explosives placed in the car of a cousin just three days earlier – meant as a sectarian warning to move – clinched the argument.
"Most parents believe it is better if their children are safe and far away, instead of close [in Iraq], where they may get blown up," says Rasoul, a translator who has worked with American police units in Iraq.
He had saved for months, aware that friends, armed with $7,000, had reached Greece from Turkey, acquired forged passports, and gotten to Sweden, where everything worked out.
For Rasoul, the refusal was a sign of disrespect and final proof that Iraq's violence has prompted a fall from grace for his countrymen. "[The Turks] saw us and feared us. They didn't agree to let the younger ones in, though they had money," says Mohammed Qassim Ali, owner of an electronics shop in downtown Baghdad that has been hit with explosives so often that he has had to replace glass twice a month for the past year.
At 44, Mr. Ali was allowed to enter Turkey, but his son-in-law Mustapha was refused. Ali had been in contact with a Turkish doctor to operate on Mustapha's hand, injured in a car crash. But that plan collapsed, so the next morning – after spending a night stuck at the Baghdad airport because of Baghdad's curfew – they were going to try their luck with Syria.
"The Turks are trying to show to Europe that they can deal with immigration, and protect Europe's border," says Ali. Even Jordan and Syria, which have been accepting 3,000 Iraqis a day between them, "are looking at us with a narrower mind," says Ali.
"Morale is low," he adds, surrounded by defeated fellow travelers. "I think each day will be worse than the day before."