This paper deals with both emigration and return, applying a systems approach on 'forced migrants'.
Empirically based on more than 100 in-depth interviews and 7 focus group discussions with Iraqi Kurdish emigrants and returnees to/from the UK and Norway, this paper explores the evolution of an Iraqi Kurdish - European migration system through three time periods, 1975-1991, 1992-1998, and 1999 until today. The first wave, comprised of political elites, were often granted asylum by sympathetic host states in Europe. Through their existentially important remittances, transnational marriages and high-profile return visits these elites had a signalling effect triggering the emigration of a more mixed group of second-wave ‘economic refugees'. Second-wavers emulated the first-wavers in search of wealth and freedom but were also fleeing a complex of civil war, generalized insecurity and economic deprivation. The final third-wavers tend to be less wealthy and younger, and idealize Europe as a vehicle of social mobility in lieu of inaccessible patronage. Unprecedented though incomplete political stability and rapid though inequitable economic growth in Iraqi Kurdistan hence produces return and emigration simultaneously. It prompts the return of political and financial elites, well positioned to capitalize on investment opportunities and benefit from personal networks and any foreign-earned skills and education they might have acquired. It also produces third wavers who continue to emulate the elites by seeking asylum in Europe to accumulate wealth and enjoy social freedoms, but are poorly positioned to do so as increasingly restrictive asylum regimes and economic downturns in Europe combine to produce irregularization, marginalization, and unfavorable exchange rates vis-à-vis the booming Kurdish economy. When these third-wavers eventually return, often forcibly, they are largely empty-handed and face disappointed households and poor prospects in an increasingly specialized labor market. In other words, emigration to Europe has been democratized but return has not.