Why are so many young Kurds trying to flee to Europe?

A large number of refugees at the Polish-Belarussian border originate from Iraqi Kurdistan. For a long time the region was called “The other Iraq”, therefore international observers ask why they are taking this risk. We talked with Salam Omar, editor in chief from our partner Kirkuk Now.

Salam Omar (right) at work with Kirkuk Now

Question: About 8,000 people from the KRI region were among the refugees trying to pass the Belarus-Polish border. 75,000 are said to have left Iraqi-Kurdistan in 2021 alone. Do you see reasons why so many Kurds want to leave, although Iraqi-Kurdistan is often hailed as a stable and secure area?

Salam Omar: Iraqi Kurdistan is usually compared to the rest of the country, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, when it comes to security and stability. There is a level of truth in that. But that is not the whole picture. Iraqi Kurdistan is almost a system failure, it suffers from multiple political, economic and social problems. It is one among the top corrupt regions in the Middle East, the region’s resources are in the hands of the ruling families in Erbil and Sulaimaniyah. The freedom of expression is deteriorating and independent journalism is fading away. If you look at the picture from the eyes of this Kurdish generation, the region is very unsecure, and unstable with a vague future. There is no hope for them as they have lost faith in the ruling politicians who own almost everything. The youth leave because the political situation is deteriorating, there are no job opportunities and there is no hope for real reform in the region.

But usually Kurdistan is considered safe and the chances to get asylum in Europe are not very good. Don’t they know that the trip is very dangerous and then the chances low?

SO: Since decades immigration has continued to the date. Of course, there is also misinformation about the chances in Europe, but the angry youth say they at least try their best to leave the region. With safety guaranteed, people look for job opportunities and development, that is why they do even the almost impossible to leave the country.

kurd flee

Headlines of Rudaw News

With every single conflict which starts in the region, a new wave of Kurdish youth try make it to Europe. The phenomenon is bigger than that, thousands of others try to legally migrate to the USA and Canada. Others such as the business people and those who have a good income try to purchase passports of other countries. Safety is not only the answer to the problem.

Once someone said, the young generation in the Middle East is left only with the choices to rebel, escape or join the Islamists. So, do you think the situation is similiar in Kurdistan? Do the latest protests of students express the same anger?

SO: Nowadays, there is little chance that Kurdish youth join the Islamists, but the two other options are very well practiced by the Kurdish youth right now. What happens on the Belarus-Poland borders is the manifestation of how our youth resort to every possible way to flee the region, and the third option can be witnessed through the university students protests over the weekend. They perfectly complete the picture. The ruling parties and families in KRG have gone too far in ignoring to listen up to the criticism, civil society and opposition warnings about the situation we are going through now.

More than 50% of the population is under 25 years old while the rate of unemployement in the age group 18-35 years lies above 20%. Just recently 27 migrants died trying to pass the channel from France to the UK, most of them came from Iraqi-Kurdistan.

Over the past 30 years, Europe , the US and the wider international community have supported the Kurdish region to flourish. Now is time to put pressure on Iraqi Kurdistan to undergo painful reforms in order to respect freedom of press and expression, fight corruption, nepotism and favoritism.

Interview: Thomas v. der Osten-Sacken.