Kurds Prefer Welfare and Comfort over Cause of Kurdish Government

Thursday, February 18, 2016

200,000 Kurds Migrating to Europe in Less than Two Years

Mohammad Ali Dastmali
Expert on Turkey Affairs

The caravan of asylum seekers, who flow toward Europe in hope of a safe haven often through Turkish waters, is not merely made up of Syrian refugees and there is also a remarkable number of Afghan, Iranian, Bangladeshi and other asylum seekers among them. There are also tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds, whose problems are by no means similar to those of Syrian citizens, who have chosen Europe as their destination.

Mr. Dashty Jamal, secretary general of the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees, said in a press conference last month that during the past two months, 134 Iraqi asylum seekers have drowned in the waters of the Aegean Sea, most of them hailing from the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. He added that in less than two recent years, 200,000 citizens of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region have traveled via Turkey to Europe to seek asylums there. Of course, only a small fraction of these people have managed to get to Sweden, Germany, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and France, and the rest have remained stranded mostly in Turkey and Greece.

Fake life jackets are sold by human smuggling networks at 30 liras apiece and have so far sent tens of asylum seekers to their deaths, while real life jackets are sold for 90 liras! Of course, the big network of human smugglers is made up of a variety of groups, whose various links include brokers, secret and unhygienic safe houses, boat owners and local fishermen, drivers, passport forgers and other groups, the details of whose activities and their relations with major mafia groups in Europe cannot be discussed here. The main goal of this article is to explain the importance of the migration to Europe of 200,000 Iraqi Kurds in a short period of time, namely in less than two years, which in view of the approximate Kurdish population of Iraq, which is about five million, is a remarkable figure. Perhaps, if there was a land border with Europe, which would be less risky and less costly, a higher number of Iraqi Kurds would have migrated to Europe.

Reasons behind migration of Iraqi Kurds

Under present circumstances, no major security and political risk threatens the lives of Iraqi Kurds and they have a semi-independent political and economic structure in place, and are gradually moving toward declaration of independence and establishment of a Kurdish government. So, the question is why the number of Kurdish migrants has increased and in less than 18 months, 200,000 Kurds have left the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to illegally go to Europe by sea via Turkey.

During recent months, differences between Erbil (capital city of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region) and the central government in Baghdad, have reached their acme. As a result, salaries of civil servants, teachers and Peshmerga forces have not been paid for about three months and profound stagnation has overshadowed the entire Iraqi Kurdistan Region. This, however, is not the whole story and the issue of the migration of Iraqi Kurds has become too complicated to be simply explained on the basis of economic reasons.

Erbil and Ankara have faced Baghdad and Washington with fait accompli as they are already sending the crude oil produced in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region through Turkey’s Ceyhan port to international markets and sell it there. However, everyday life for most of the citizens of the Kurdistan region is marked with all kinds of hardships, high prices and poverty, while funding daily activities of various ministries, as well as government offices and institutions of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region has become a major problem for the region’s prime minister, Nechervan Barzani. In parallel to these big problems, global oil prices have drastically plummeted, while existing differences with the central government in Baghdad have led to a contraction in liquidity and made procurement of the annual budget very difficult and complicated. The war with Daesh, on the other hand, has greatly increased the expenses of the Kurdistan region while entry of more than 1.5 million Iraqi and Syrian refugees into the region has faced its officials with a lot of problems. However, this cannot be a basic and major reason for immigration of the Iraqi Kurds to Europe. In the same region and during past decades, Kurds have experienced more austere conditions. On the other hand, it is evident that those people who opt for immigration have at least a few thousands of dollars in order to make the trip to Turkey and contact dealers and agents that work with human smuggling networks. Therefore, most of these people, who choose immigration, are not very poor and hungry people. Another point that must be added here is that many top officials of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region have already obtained citizenship of a European country and most of them have sent their families to outside of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to study and live abroad and take advantage of the affluent environment in Europe.

The cause of Kurdish government losing appeal

Oil sales by the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, the fight against Daesh by Kurdish Peshmerga forces, and extensive diplomatic relations of Masoud Barzani, the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, in addition to the weakness of the central government in Baghdad, have on the whole created good and desirable conditions for the movement of this region toward declaration of independence and establishment of a Kurdish state. Therefore, under such conditions, tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurdish citizens that live in European countries can be expected to return to their homeland and avail themselves of the Kurdish version of independence and freedom. However, this has not taken place in practice and in a short period of time, 200,000 Kurds have chosen to take the risks of seeking asylum in Europe. Therefore, for this group of Kurdish citizens, the cause of establishing a Kurdish state has lost its appeal and they prefer their individual welfare and comfort as well as the pleasure of living in the West over living in a free and independent Kurdistan. Perhaps events related to political, partisan and economic developments in the Kurdish region have taught them that “April and May are the keys of the year.” This means that at present, and as admitted by officials of the Kurdish region, financial and administrative corruption; discrimination and injustice in division of power, positions and resources; party-related differences as well as excessive availability of petrodollars for use by top officials and their families and children have made normal people who are far from power positions disappointed. The people have come to grips with the reality that even if something similar to an independent state were established, they would have no share of its amenities. At the same time, Iraqi Kurdish asylum seekers, like many other asylum seekers coming from the east, see Europe as a social and cultural heaven in their mental images and judgments about Europe. They think that they will see a “lifestyle” in Europe, which is as desirable and beautiful as what they have seen on the movie screen, on television and through the internet, and this issue must be a source of serious concern not only for leaders and officials of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, but also for statesmen in other eastern countries in our region.

Key WordsKurds, Welfare, Comfort, Cause, Kurdish Government, Europe, Iraqi Kurdistan, Smuggling Networks, Migration, Erbil, Ankara, Daesh, Oil, Turkey, Masoud Barzani, Dastmali

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*Photo Credit: Aljazeera

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