In recent years, numerous citizens of the KRI have lost their lives trying to cross the English Channel in small boats. Many people moving from the region to Europe and the UK since 2014 have done so in response to corruption and political conflict in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). Since its creation in 1991 with the support of the US and the UK, the KRI has been under tight control of two main parties: the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Ruling the region through a duopoly, the PUK/KDP have provided little power, resources and economic opportunities to citizens who fall outside their own clientelist and patronage networks.  

Party dominance and corruption, combined with years of conflict over resource-sharing with the central government in Baghdad, have compounded the KRI’s financial and economic crisis and generated strong incentives for the region’s citizens to migrate using available smuggling networks. The KRI is riddled with active smuggling networks that make it possible for citizens from the region to invest their entire life savings in the hope of relocating to the UK to begin anew, highlighting the deep-seated desire for change and a better life away from the systemic issues plaguing their homeland. 

Chatham House XCEPT research highlights the involvement of both local and international actors in a complex web of human smuggling, which capitalizes on the desperation of individuals seeking better lives. This transnational network exacerbates the plight of its victims, exploiting their circumstances for profit. The recent arrests have once again brought to light the issue of Kurdish migration, which for years has been driven by political corruption and conflict within the KRI, facilitated by transnational networks.  

Read the full blog here, originally published on the Chatham House website.