KABUL (Reuters) - A chartered airplane carrying 125 Afghan refugees back from Germany landed in Kabul on Wednesday, with officials on hand eager to assure the returnees that they have a future in Afghanistan.
The refugees returned voluntarily, in what is expected to be the first of many such flights coordinated between the governments in Kabul and Berlin as well as the International Organization for Migration, according the German embassy in Kabul.
Seeking to escape the violence and economic malaise that continue to grip their home country, Afghans make up a major portion of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have been pouring into Europe, which has struggled to find ways to accommodate the arrivals.
Officials in Kabul greeted the returning refugees with signs saying "Welcome back, Afghanistan needs you."
"After a difficult way to Germany in the hands of people smugglers they realized their future is in Afghanistan and that they are needed in their home country," the German embassy said in a statement.
Many Afghans made their way to Germany, but in recent months the German government has launched media campaigns to dissuade would-be refugees from making the trip, warning of dangerous human traffickers and limited opportunities in Europe.
Afghans were 27 percent of the more than 100,000 refugees who made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea in January, second only to the number fleeing war-torn Syria, according to data collected by the United Nations.
Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Richard Borsuk