Kurdistan’s Youth Are Migrating

By Meer Ako Ali:11169152_1597290643868766_9166388972395687715_n

To migrate or not to migrate? This is the question more and more of the youth of the Kurdistan Region are asking themselves.

Every month 3,000 people migrate illegally from the Kurdistan Region mostly to Europe through Turkey according to Iraqi federal estimates. Last week 12 young Kurds died en route in the Mediterranean and there is growing concern in the region about the effects of such large-scale migration. 

It costs anything from $6K to $10K to be smuggled into a host of European countries. France, Germany, the UK, Greece, or Scandinavia: It’s your call. You also get to choose your method of transportation: land or sea. To many, this new upsurge in migration is reminiscent to the waves of the 1990’s. But today people smugglers advertise their lucrative and clandestine business on Facebook, and there are slightly different reasons motivating the youth to pay them for a one-way ticket.

The main reason prompting the youth to consider migration is financial wellbeing. Many of them are struggling to find employment and start a family in the wake of the current economic slump the Kurdistan Region is going through. Even those who are employed do not get their salaries on time, and these are sometimes delayed for 3 months. In general, inflation rates are high, most construction has halted, and there is growing disparity between socioeconomic classes.

The fight against ISIS has posed some security concerns to the youth. But, more importantly, it has strained resources in Kurdistan. With a constantly rising military bill, the region is struggling to provide basic services internally – such as electricity and fuel. The millions of incoming IDPs have also raised the price of housing, which has become unaffordable to a majority of the youth.

The new generation is also fed up with widespread corruption and favoritism in the region. Vertical mobility is very hard for those who are not well connected, with scant opportunities in politics and the economy. Many recent university graduates from the new generation feel trapped and hopeless.

As a result, each month 3,000 people are looking toward the West for a more honorable and comfortable life. They envision the social progress that prevails in those countries and freedom from their own more conservative and patriarchal societies. On the flip side of the coin, this may still be a positive remark as it shows that Kurdistan’s new generation is forward-looking and thirsty for social emancipation.



The main public concern surrounding this wave of immigration is the ethno-demographics of the Kurdistan Region: as the youth clear out from the towns and cities, they are replaced by Arabs from Iraq and Syria. The public debate in the Kurdistan Region is now about the issue of identity and affiliation among the youth. As more and more youth take life-threatening and illegal routes toward unknown fates in Europe, many are questioning their sense of nationalism.

However, these youth have not lost hope in Kurdistan. In fact, many of them pose, for social media pages, with Kurdish flags next to European monuments. And most of them know that they will find it hard to blend in with their new compatriots with no meaningful links to their new communities. And that the excitement from the freedoms of Europe will be abruptly replaced by fears of deportation and arduous pleas.

The fact of the matter is that the youth are tired of the KRG and how it has been running things. In the wake of 2003 they had high hopes for bright futures and the promises made to them by political candidates; but they are weary of the mismanagement and lack of opportunities. In order for the Kurdistan Region to keep its youth, it must pay more attention to them.

There are two important observations the KRG needs to make. First, the current immigration crisis is not an incidence of brain drain; rather one of labor drain. Most of the outgoing youth are not professionally specialized and lack work credentials to compete in the labor market. The government needs to invest heavily in education and technical training for the youth. It also needs to implement pension and healthcare policies for the private sector to encourage entrepreneurship in the region.


Second, the youth are tired of the outdated political infrastructure. The KRG can no longer continue doing “democracy” as it does now. It must involve more youth in its decision-making processes and incubate their ideas and policy recommendations. It is also crucial for the KRG to conduct national surveys to more closely learn about the needs of the youth.

The region might now be in a state of emergency, with ISIS knocking at the door. But, if its government does not immediately attend to its youth, it might lose the future.

Meer Ako Ali is an economist and researcher based in Beirut, Lebanon. He has led many youth publications and writes about economic policy, oil governance, and the society in Kurdistan.


9 Responses to Kurdistan’s Youth Are Migrating
  1. Amanj
    July 9, 2015 | 19:40

    Youths are running out of patience!
    For the last ten years, they have presented tons of reform proposals to KRG. They are sick and tired of repetition. Looks like one is talking to deaf ears. There is a cruel dictator who has no interest whatsoever to leave power. On the other side, one can clearly see a set of corrupt politicians busy only accumulating wealth. More than 60% of youths are unemployed despite a collage degree. Roughly 42% of female do not have any sort of income. An employee wage is estimated 500 U.S. Dollar. Renting a two bedroom apartment costs 700$ in Hawler. Number of widows and orphans has grown more than ever. Youths can not purchase and possess a small piece of land even after 10 years of nonstop labour. Political parties have monopolized every economic sector. National unity exists only be name! Barzani does not care. Kurdistan has remained unchanged for 30 years. I used to be a youth and I have grown older in a much more expedited manner that I expected. I am grateful to my government for forcing me migrate.

    Solution: Never late to rebuild our homeland together. First thing to focus on is for all to respect Democracy. It is the outset to end all miseries. It’s the key to progress.
    Please ask KRGs officials to step down after 2 terms.
    Albeit some of them, you never voted for. That why they do not heed your concerns. Let there be change now that war is going to end. Change it!

  2. PUK !
    July 9, 2015 | 19:52

    If election is not honored, PUK, Gorran and Islamic Parties must answer to nation in future for any Presidents shortcomings. Please share power and wealth !
    No monopoly! No exception! Consider beloved Kurdistan and Kurdish nation interests above all!
    Let every one be equal in a free independent Kurdistan!
    Kurdistan has a bright future. We must make world youths migrate to Kurdistan.

  3. Amanj
    July 10, 2015 | 02:02

    You are in my heart and mind beloved Kurdistan. I love who gave birth to me and the land in which I was given birth to. I would never abandon you if some did not make me. Once they leave, so shall I.

  4. Farhad
    July 10, 2015 | 16:08

    Can someone let me know will there be elections in Kurdistan or not. I am confused.

  5. K.I.M
    July 11, 2015 | 07:06

    Masood Barzani is requested to let free elections be held.
    President Obama is requested to not meddle into internal affairs of South Kurdistan. Respect Democracy!

  6. Hoshiar
    July 11, 2015 | 07:47

    I assumed Masood Barzani would step down! That is what I heard from one of his grandsons. August is almost there!
    Barzani is doing everything to postpone due elections using every means, including bribery, threat, false vows.

  7. Salah
    July 11, 2015 | 12:13

    Mr. Barzani: No more cheating in elections.
    Even a ten year old kid does not believe in you any longer. You lost your credibility in eyes of public. Apparently, you don’t care about your fame. Stop making our youths commit suicides. Stop embezzling public funds. It’s not your fault. I place the blame on those who prop you up for economic reasons behind the scene. Tho whose interests democracy would pose the greatest threat to. Just because you cooperate on the war on terrorism does not guarantee your position for good! We taught we have a legendary leader who would educate and prepare the next generation of honest patriot leaders for Kurdistan. We were unaware that he would be willing to have thousands of Kurds killed on the streets who dare question his authority.

    The choice is yours to leave but it is the public who would determine if you should stay!

    Good luck with your outdated tribal totalitarian mindset.

  8. Kawa
    July 11, 2015 | 20:17

    KDPs independence just resembles to its false democratic election promise. Look at its party’s logo. No word or symbol indicating to independence or South.
    It’s media organs have recently been talking Great Independence for Kurdistan.

    That’s the reason it’s called an outdated party!

  9. Mohsin
    July 11, 2015 | 20:34

    A revolution by youths for youths in Kurdistan is must!
    Topple dictatorship! Kurdistan with its future belongs to you!

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