Iraqi Migration to Europe: IOM Report

Migration Research

Iraq - IOM Iraq today released a report: “Migration Flows from Iraq to Europe: Reasons Behind Migration”. The report explores the reasons why Iraqi migrants choose Europe, their hopes and expectations, and motives for returning to their home country.

The qualitative study is based on 14 focus group discussions with 86 Iraqis who migrated to Europe in 2015 and subsequently returned to Iraq. The focus group discussions were held in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) between March and April 2016. All participants returned to Iraq through IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration programme.

The findings reveal that the main reasons cited for emigration from Iraq were lack of security (general and personal), perceived lack of equality and social justice, and political instability. Economic instability was mentioned across all locations, but was considered secondary to security concerns in Baghdad.

Reasons behind choosing Europe as a destination included perceived security, equality and social justice. The way to Europe was seen as open, which for migrants implied lower risks and costs, and European countries were thought to have favourable immigration policies.

Many participants selected a country of destination based on the presence of friends or relatives and on information, most often obtained by word of mouth, about the ease of obtaining residency permits and the possibility of family reunification.

However, most migrants reported that life in Europe had been idealized and that the reality was more difficult than expected. The main reasons for their disappointment and frustration were the length and unpredictability of the asylum application process, followed by living conditions, which were dependent on the reception system in the country of destination.

The three main reasons for return to Iraq were: extended waiting time for asylum application processing, compounded by uncertainty about the outcome of asylum applications and inability to support either themselves abroad or their families at home; disappointment with the overall experience in Europe; and unexpected need to return to Iraq due to tragic or exceptional family events.

One focus group participant said: “Receiving a residency permit is not as easy as expected. Waiting times are really long.” Another participant said: “Migrants are shocked because life in the country of destination is completely different from their expectations.”

The report is the second phase of a research project funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The first phase was a quantitative study based on nearly 500 interviews, which was released in February 2016: “Migration Flows from Iraq to Europe”.

IOM Iraq Chief of Mission Thomas Lothar Weiss said: “Nearly 85,000 Iraqis arrived to Greece by sea in the second half of 2015 alone. A deeper understanding of the dynamics and driving factors behind the difficult decision Iraqi migrants made to leave home is crucial to better address their needs in Iraq, as well as in transit and receiving countries. Through this study, IOM aims to provide a comprehensive migration management response, in cooperation with the host governments in Europe and the Government of Iraq.”

Both reports are available on the IOM Iraq website:

For further information please contact IOM Iraq. Sandra Black, Tel. +964 751 234 2550, Email: or Laura Nistri, Email: or Antanas Jurksaitis, Email: