Iraqi Kurdistan

The 8 dangers Iraqi Kurds face on the irregular route to Europe

The 8 dangers Iraqi Kurds face on the irregular route to Europe

Choosing to travel irregularly to Europe for Iraqi Kurdistan is a highly risky decision. Below you will find the nine main dangers migrants face when taking the irregular route to Europe.

Knowledge is power. With awareness of the risks and dangers comes security. Read and share.

Exploitation by smugglers

The first thing one should always bear in mind is that smugglers are criminals. They may pretend that both the journey and settling in Europe are easy in order to get money. Smugglers often lie about the safety of the route and modes of transport, particularly boats crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Knowing the migrant’s family and friends does not prevent the smuggler from exploiting them and putting them in dangerous situations that could end up risking their lives. Smugglers often pass on or sell migrant to other smugglers en route. Migrants cannot protest or leave, but may actually have to pay more money than first agreed. Migrants may have to put their lives in the hands of smugglers who are complete strangers.

Physical violence and ransom demands to family members in exchange for the migrant’s safety are common tactics smugglers use.

Arrest and detention

Irregular migrants from Iraqi Kurdistan must be smuggled across borders through different countries  to get to Europe. Each country has their own border protection and policies.

Irregular migrants are at risk of capture, detention and deportation throughout their journey. Migrants have also reported that police have beaten them and stolen their belongings.

The Mediterranean Sea: the deadliest route

The Mediterranean Sea is the most dangerous route to Europe for irregular migrants. Smugglers often lie about the length of the journey and do not tell migrants that the boats are overcrowded, not suitable for long sea journeys and are at risk of sinking.

In 2018, more than 1,500 migrants have perished while trying to cross the Mediterranean. From 2014 to mid-2018,16,850 migrants have died rying to cross the Mediterranean.

Many of those who have died were Iraqi Kurds. In January 2016, 24 drowned after their boat, made for 30 people but carrying 65, sank off the Greek coast. One Kurdish male returnee told Seefar in 2017 that when crossing the sea, one of the boats they were using was damaged and three people died.

Migrants may not be able to choose whether they will travel overland or across the sea to reach Europe. Most Iraqi migrants still use the Mediterranean route. An Iraqi Kurd interviewed by Seefar, who returned home, was told that he would be taking a taxi across the border from Turkey to Greece but was forced onto a boat by smugglers at gunpoint.

The Black Sea: a new risky route

Recently smugglers have been attempting to take migrants to Europe across the Black Sea from Turkey to Romania.

This sea journey is also very dangerous and many have died taking this route, including Iraqi Kurds. In September 2017, a boat carrying mainly Iraqi nationals sank and 37 migrants drowned.

Hiding in trucks to travel overland

Travelling overland can be dangerous too. Smugglers hide migrants in trucks and the boots of cars. Border patrols have become more rigorous and officers are aware of many of the tricks smugglers commonly use, arresting irregular migrants.

In 2015, 71 irregular migrants were found dead in a truck in Austria after a smuggler locked them in the back and abandoned them. At least five were from Iraqi Kurdistan and had paid 8,000 US dollars to an Iraqi Kurdish smuggler who knew their families and promised to take them to Germany. They were passed on to an Afghan smuggler, who told them to take the truck in which they died.

This confirms that even if migrants’ families know the smugglers, they can still break promises and that often migrants are passed on to different smugglers along the route.

Walking across borders

Often migrants have to cross difficult terrain on foot, including forests and rivers, for many days with no shelter. In November 2017, after a 26-hour trek Ahmed, a 20-year old Iraqi Kurd, was arrested in Bulgaria and put in prison. There, he joined many other Kurdish and foreign migrants who had crossed into the country irregularly before being caught.

The journey can take many months, even years, and irregular migrants rarely have access to decent shelter on route. The winters in Europe can be very harsh. Kurdistan 24 reported that in January 2017, two Iraqi migrants froze to death on the Bulgarian border.

Abuse and exploitation of children and adolescents

Unaccompanied minors is the term covering all migrants under the age of 18 travelling without a parent. Despite what some may pretend, they are no more likely to get a residence permit than an adult. Each immigration case and asylum application in Europe is considered individually.

The irregular migration journey is extremely dangerous for children. Children go without education and face isolation. Many minors are forced to work to pay back smugglers for the costs of their journey. There have been many reports of children going missing who are then at risk of sexual and labour exploitation. Child migrants are the most vulnerable to human trafficking.

Violence and exploitation of women

The irregular migration journey is also particularly dangerous for women and girls. Many women suffer robbery, physical abuse, torture, rape, enslavement and other forms of psychological abuse during their journey.

Perpetrators of violence against women throughout the journey include criminal gangs, smugglers, traffickers, border guards, police and fellow migrants.

Even in Europe, detention facilities and other accommodation centres do not always meet the protection needs of women and girls, and they face multiple levels of harassment. Rape is very common, even when  the reception centres and camps are in Europe.

More information on the need for protection of women.


Migrating irregularly from Iraqi Kurdistan to Europe is highly dangerous. Smugglers are criminals who make false promises as they are only interested in money:

  • They lie about costs and often extort more money throughout the journey.
  • Smugglers lie about life in Europe and the asylum process, claiming that it is easy and it is possible to earn money.
  • They also lie about the safety of the route and modes of transport, particularly boats.
  • They often pass migrants on to other smugglers who are untrustworthy and may exploit vulnerable people.

The Mediterranean Sea is the most dangerous route for those travelling irregularly. Since 2014, 16,850 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. In 2017, two out of every 100 migrants who attempted the crossing the crossing died.

Travelling overland is also highly risky, especially when crossing ISIS territory, hiding in trucks and cars, or trekking in harsh weather and conditions.

Women and unaccompanied children are most vulnerable when migrating irregularly, there are countless reports of abuse and exploitation.

This information may help someone and prevent tragic outcomes, please share.


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