Skip to the content

Op-ed by Prime Minister Masrour Barzani

The full text of the op-ed by PM Masrour Barzani is available below. The piece was published in French today in Le Monde.

By PM Masrour Barzani

Throughout the ages, the Kurds have been a migrant people. From every point of our lands, our sons and daughters have fled war and persecution, pestilence - and even genocide. Kurds have never been averse to hardships. And nor have we been blind to agendas.

Over the past month, the flight of Kurdish migrants to Europe and the desperate circumstances they have confronted in the frozen forests of Belarus and on the shores of Dunkirk have been horrifying. In recent days the tragedy in the English Channel has intensified our heartbreak. The deaths of 27 people – mostly Kurds from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq - who drowned in frigid waters far from home should never have happened.

We know a lot about the journey that many of the victims took, and we are in the process of learning more. But what I can say at this point is that those who died were deceived and betrayed. They were pawns in a political power play, the architects of which pay no heed to their suffering and do not value their lives.

We expect answers from our British friends about whether the vessel that sank was in English waters when distress calls were first made. We also hope for full cooperation from our partners in France. This must never be allowed to happen again.

The smuggling networks behind this atrocity aim to flood the Eurozone with migrants as a means of pressuring political leaders in a dispute between Belarus and Brussels. They have used our people as collateral in a cynical pantomime thinly disguised as opportunity and are indifferent to the humanity of those they misled.

We have taken firm steps to stop our people from embarking on journeys that have been facilitated by political leaders in cohorts with people smugglers and criminal gangs. Travel agents who have aided the exodus have been arrested and will be prosecuted. The carte blanche granting of visas has been stopped. And we will help anyone who wants to return to Iraqi Kurdistan. So far, nearly 2,000 citizens have returned, many carrying a message that what was sold to them as a quest for betterment was instead a death trap - and that no-one else should try to follow them.

I want to be very clear that the motivations for this crisis are political and criminal. This is fundamentally not a migrant issue. Our people have been exploited to believe that leaving their lands in such circumstances is about opportunity. Groups such as the PKK have been feeding this lie. Their presence and conflict with Turkey in border towns has driven vulnerable families to leave. So too has the false narrative fed by smugglers that economic insecurity has taken root in Kurdistan. It has not.

In the two years since I became Prime Minister, we have taken broad steps to put the economy of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq on a new footing. We have recognised the need to revitalise our economy, which has remained resilient despite a series of shocks - the ravages of war with the ISIS terror group, a slump in the global oil market, political torpor with Baghdad and then a global pandemic. My administration has made determined steps to clamp down on corruption, drive efficiencies, establish competitiveness, empower ministries and implement global best practice standards.

We are a society that looks after it’s people and we are creating a viable economy to support them. Jobs are being created. A growing private sector will add to that. Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the safest regions in the Middle East, a sanctuary for nearly one million displaced individuals souls from across the region - many fleeing genuine persecution - as well as 100,000 job seekers from neighbouring countries.

Compared to our neighbours, many Kurds are prosperous. And things will get better for those who remain on the downside of advantage. That said, we recognise that many of our people yearn for a better life. Some of our citizens have been unemployed long term despite being highly qualified. This must change. We need to create jobs for them. To these people, I say to you - you will not find support on faux migrant routes manufactured by puppet masters who do not have your interests at heart.

These perilous journeys are instead a road to ruin and loss. Opportunity exists on the home front, not in the inhospitable fields and beaches of foreign lands now in the onset of winter. We recognise the need for broader reforms at home. And they will be delivered.

To our European friends, we recognise that the arrival of large numbers of Iraqi refugees on your soil over many years has created a crisis that needs resolution. We are aware of your needs and we will work with you in good faith to ensure just outcomes. We have teams in Brussels this week starting discussions.

But we can’t do it alone. We are Europe’s closest neighbor, and unless the root causes of this crisis are tackled, migrants will continue to knock on European doors. Europe can help us through economic reform here – at the source of the problem. Doing so will slow the tide of asylum seekers and ease the political, social and security challenges that stem from their arrival.

We also expect our international partners to do more to safeguard our people. Poland and Belarus in particular must uphold their obligations to care for those in desperate need. It is past time for the world to look the other way.

Link to original article in French on Le Monde: