‘There is no future here’: Iraqi Kurds seek to migrate to Europe

Haresh Talib is an Iraqi Kurd. He is a printer and civil servant in Sulaimaniyah and owns an apartment in a good part of town. But he hopes to travel to Europe again to secure his family’s future.

Haresh Talib sees no future for him and his family in Iraqi Kurdistan. The 36-year-old printer and civil servant recently spoke to the French press agency Agence France PresseAFP why he’s about to take his whole family across Europe in hopes of finding a more stable future.

“There is no future here”, says Talib AFP. “The government asks us to work but it hasn’t paid us on time for years.” Last year, unemployment in the autonomous region exceeded 17% according to figures released by the Iraqi Ministry of Planning in Baghdad. Unemployment in the rest of Iraq stood at 14%, reports AFP.

Talib and his family, his wife and two sons aged 8 and 12 live in an apartment on the first floor of a pastel yellow house. Their home is in the affluent suburb of Sulaimaniyah, the second city of Iraqi Kurdistan.

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Peppa Pig and Real Madrid

While Talib’s eight-year-old child watches British cartoon Peppa Pig in the living room, his brother Hajant plays football outside. Hajant already speaks English and tells the AFP journalist in English how much he is a fan of the Spanish team Real Madrid, and in particular of the French star Karim Benzema who plays for Real.

But despite all that, Talib says he’s determined to pack up and go. This is not the first time Talib has visited Europe. He does not want to reveal the exact route he will take, but tells AFP he hopes to go to Britain, where he already has friends. “But if it doesn’t work out, I’ll go to Germany,” says Talib.

Work and education are Talib’s main motivations. “In these countries there is work. You can guarantee that the children will get an education,” he says.

Extract from the file: A photo of the city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan | Photo: picture-alliance/J. Butner

Work and Education

About five million people live in Iraqi Kurdistan. According AFP, about two-thirds of households depend on a public salary or pension. But, due to tensions between the Baghdad government and the autonomous province, payments are coming “chronically late”.

A researcher from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Shivan Fazil, explains that in recent years, as the economic crisis has deepened, they have found that there is a “perception of corruption widespread, growing inequality and political stagnation” in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Fazil believes these are “among the main drivers of the latest wave of migration” from the region. Added to this, detailed a UN report in December 2021, an “increasingly repressive pattern of active restriction of freedom of expression” in the country. The report notes that intimidation, arbitrary arrests and other means are directed against dissidents.

“Confessions extracted under torture”

The report also states that there is “a continuing lack of respect for the legal requirements and procedural safeguards necessary to guarantee fair legal proceedings before an independent and impartial tribunal”.

The trials were observed to fail to meet “international human rights standards, including the right of the accused to call and examine, or have examined, prosecution witnesses”. At least eight of the defendants appearing in court, according to the UN report, claimed their confessions were “extorted under torture”. The judge, the UN said, “dismissed those findings without further consideration.”

“Systematic barriers have also prevented defense attorneys from preparing an effective defense.” At least two of the defendants were held in prolonged solitary confinement and “all were denied regular access to their families”.

A threat of conflict also hangs over the entire region. The Turkish military has targeted bases in northern Iraq, where Iraqi Kurdistan is located, claiming they are bases of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which Ankara and its Western allies classify as a terrorist group.

There has been a conflict between Turkey and the PKK since 1984. In May several civilians died, reports AFPfollowing strikes from both sides.

Clan conflicts

Within Iraqi Kurdistan itself, clan conflict has also infected the region’s politics. According AFPtwo main groups, the Barzanis of Arbil and the Talabanis of Sulaimaniyah fought for dominance in the region.

Talib says he was threatened by these clans, although he declines to elaborate on any further “threats”.

From the file: An image from November shows migrants in the forest near the border between Poland and Belarus |  Photo: Leonid Shcheglov/Belta/AFP/REUTERS
From the file: An image from November shows migrants in the forest near the border between Poland and Belarus | Photo: Leonid Shcheglov/Belta/AFP/REUTERS

In the fall of 2021, Talib and his family attempted to reach Europe via the Belarusian capital Minsk. He said AFP that between October and December 2021, he “twice paid a smuggler to help get him and his family into Poland”.

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During one attempt, Talib said, a border guard dog jumped on his son, so he hit the dog. Talib then says that the Polish police “beat me and we were arrested”. In another attempt, they tried to use fake Greek passports, but were again arrested.

In December, reports AFP, they were sent back to Kurdistan. But their desire to reach Europe has not disappeared. Talib says he and his family just want to “get out of this jungle”.

According to an AFP report