Kurdish Migration from Iraqi Kurdistan – Reasons and Solutions

  • PUK
  • 15/10/1999 00:00:00

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan

Bureau for International Relations

444 N. Capitol Street, N.W., Suite 837, Washington D.C. 20001, U.S.A.

Telephone: 202 637 2496 Facsimile: 202 637 2723

Kurdish Migration from Iraqi Kurdistan – Reasons and Solutions

In recent years, increasing numbers of Kurdish immigrants have arrived on the shores of Europe seeking refuge from Iraq. To a lesser extent, Kurdish immigration to Canada, the United States, and Australia has been on the rise.

The influx of these new arrivals is taxing the social safety nets constructed by the host nations. In response, several governments have adopted measures to discourage immigration and when possible, deny entry to asylum seekers. Borders have been sealed and controls tightened but to no avail. As the US has experienced along its southern border with Mexico, the immigrant community adapts to and overcomes the new obstacles, regardless of the danger. A disturbing trend directly related to the implementation of more stringent border controls is the growth of organized smuggling rings. These criminal enterprises exact considerable financial and physical payment from their "clients" with no guarantee of delivering them safely to their intended destination. Over the past several years, dozens have died, crossing minelfeds or drowning, trying to arrive at a point of refuge in Europe.

Neither the nations of Europe nor the Kurdish regional authority derives any benefit from this often illegal human traffic. Europe must bear an inordinate financial and social cost for the corrupt governance of the government in Baghdad. The Kurdish leadership recognizes that the conditions under which many of its people live are not ideal but the drain of talented human resources from Iraqi Kurdistan is detrimental to the current and future generations of Kurds. The loss of a significant number of Iraqi Kurdistan's professional middle class is adversely impacting the region's economic and civil life. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is committed to working with the international community to address the issue of Kurdish immigration and create an environment that will encourage voluntary return and repatriation of refugees.

To accomplish this goal, it is imperative to understand the reasons Kurds would flee their homeland. Iraqi Kurdistan is among the world's richest regions with vast natural resources. It can, under proper circumstances, offer its people the best quality of life.

Why emigration?

There are several reasons Iraqi Kurds opt to leave their homeland and find refuge elsewhere:

1. Insecurity - The primary reason for Kurdish emigration is the region's vulnerability. Iraqi Kurds live in fear of the regime in Baghdad. The Iraqi government has never hesitated to deploy its military against Kurdish communities, decimating their villages and murdering innocent civilians. The Anfal campaign cost more than 182,000 people their lives and saw more than 4000 homes destroyed. The town of Halabja has the distinction of being hit by a "cocktail" of chemical weapons, the effects of which still plague the survivors. This fate was shared by twenty other locations on more than 120 different occasions between April 1987 and September 1988.

2. Ethnic cleansing - Today, Baghdad pursues a policy of forced relocation and Arabization in the Kurdish cities of Kirkuk, Kahanaqin, and Makhomour. The deportees are cast out of their homes with no destination or resources to attend to their basic needs. There are literally thousands of displaced and homeless Kurds throughout Iraq.

3. Vulnerability - Aside from the threat of Iraqi aggression, frequent Turkish forays into Iraqi Kurdistan and Iranian destabilising activities in the region heighten tensions and destablize the region.

4. Internal Instability - Intra-Kurdish conflict between the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) began in May 1994 and lasted until mid-1998. In September 1998, both parties signed a peace accord, brokered by the United States, which ended the conflict and set a course for a united Kurdish authority.

5. Isolation - The neighbors of the region limit access to/from the region. In the last couple of years, Turkey has closed its borders preventing foreigners, and particularly international NGOs from entering the region. Lacking a reliable telecommunication and satellite broadcast/receiving system, the people of Iraqi Kurdistan are cut-off from the rest of the world. This condition is compounded by the oppressive nature of the Baghdad regime.

6. Economics - The region's economy was devastated by decades of war; a situation exacerbated by dual sanctions imposed by Baghdad and, indirectly, the United Nations. The result was a 70% male unemployment rate, a decline in the quality of available health services, and a reduction in educational resources. People wanting to offer more to their children sought relief abroad.

The UN oil-for-food program has relieved the economic conditions and the situation has stabilized. Nonetheless, lasting economic progress cannot occur until sanctions are lifted over Iraqi Kurdistan. Until then, issues such as unemployment are unlikely to significantly improve unless .


Most of the people who have fled Iraqi Kurdistan would welcome the chance to return to a region rife with reform and opportunity. The best way of offering this option is a democratic peaecful Iraq, however there are intermediate steps that can be taken:

1. International Security Guarantee - Under the provisions of UNSC resolution 688, the international community can issue a directive mandating that Kurdish territory be defended against Iraqi aggression. In light of the oppressive treatment of the Kurds by Baghdad, such a guarantee is justified and necessary for creating an environment that will encourage repatriation. Additionally, the international community must compel Baghdad to end its policy of ethnic cleansing in Iraqi Kurdish communities.

2. Oil-for-food - Maintain and enhance the oil-for-food program to ensure the rehabilitation of infrastructure. The European Union can augment this effort by providing serious and long-term economic assistance to the region.

3. Accessibility - The EU should use its political and diplomatic resources to gain entry to the region for non-governmental organizations and other humanitarian agencies.

4. Create alternate avenues - The EU should look to create legal channels through which Kurds can realize some of their objectives. For example, European educational institutions can offer undergraduate and graduate scholarships to Kurdish students interested in learning in Europe. However, after completing the degree, the student must agree to return to Iraqi Kurdistan to assist in re-building the region. Similar education and technical opportunities can be offered in a wide range of subjects and trades. Another step might be the sending of European academics and student volunteers from different European universities to work in the three main universities of Kurdistan in Dohuk, Arbil and Sulaimani. Formulation of common scientific projects between the universities in Kurdistan and Europe are other examples. This would address the Kurdish quest for a better education and improved vocational skills and alleviate the need to illegally enter a host country.

5. Health care - European health care providers should consider opening their facilities to Kurds suffering from rare diseases requiring sophisticated treatments and encourage European medical NGOs to consider operating in Iraqi Kurdistan.

6. Formulation of well-organised and integrated voluntary repatriation programs by the different European countries where Kurdish refugees live, along the programs that have been developed for Bosnian refugees in many European countries with financial grants and loans, vocational training, rebuilding of their homes, economic assistance in restarting a new (or the old) life and development aid.

Working together, the Kurdish regional administration believes that a mutually beneficial solution can be found to the problem of Kurdish emig/immigration. With the EU's help, the Kurdish regional administration will bring about a healthier, more productive, and more democratic life for all of its citizens. This will encourage people to stay rather than flee and would even attract kurdish refugees to return home.

  • PUK
  • 15/10/1999 00:00:00