Kurdish refugees in Italy.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Since 2003, nearly 55,000 people have returned to the Kurdistan Region from years of exile in the West, but after the deterioration of Kurdish finances two years ago, a new wave of young Kurds has gone overseas in search of a better life, according to the Minister of Social Affairs Muhammad Hawdiani.
“The Kurdistan Region is still struggling with economic and political crises with high unemployment and many other critical issues,” Hawdiani told Rudaw, which he said were some of the factors behind the mass migration of young people.
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Migration, over 25,000 people from the Kurdistan Region, mostly young men, have left the country since 2015 hoping for asylum in a European country, but the figures could be considerably larger as no accurate data is available.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), over one million migrants reached European shores after long, complicated, and risky journeys in 2015. The IOM report suggests that Iraqis represented the third largest group of migrants, with nearly 85,000 arriving to Greece by sea in the second half of 2015 alone. How many were Kurds is not clear from the report.
Kurdish authorities have tried to dissuade young people from emigrating and asked for restraint in the face of economic difficulties in the region.
With an average growth of 10 percent a year from 2005 through 2014, the Kurdistan Region went through a major economic transformation with better living standards than the rest of Iraq, which had plunged into a sectarian war after the ouster of the former regime.
After the mass exodus of Kurds in the 1990s following the Kurdish Civil War, the current wave of emigration is probably the largest after a decade of steady economic growth and relative political stability in the country.
The rapid financial boom in Kurdistan after 2005 helped to reverse the migration as thousands of families returned to a region with sustainable prosperity and a wide range of business opportunities.
The lingering economic tensions between Baghdad and Erbil which sent the Kurdish economy into unprecedented recession, however, have pushed many young Kurds to prefer the risky path to Europe over a life in Iraq or Kurdistan.
The Kurdistan Region has vast natural resources including over 45 billion barrels of oil which authorities have struggled to build an industry on since 2005 as middle size and giant oil companies entered the region and signed long term deals. The Iraqi government has frozen large parts of the Kurdish share of the national budget due to these oil deals.
The ministry of social affairs, in coordination with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), held a conference in Erbil this week to discuss mass migration of young people who constitute the bulk of Kurdish migrants.
“This conference will explore the reasons behind youth migration and the impact of their leaving Kurdistan and of course the remedy and how to solve this dilemma,” Hawdiani said.