Project: Return, Reintegration and Political Restructuring

In this chapter, we draw on a growing body of literature and a set of empirical work carried out over a period of many years and through various projects including the Gender, Justice and Security Hub research to examine the characteristics of Kurdish refugee communities, concentrating on the triangular relationship between statelessness, displacement, and diaspora. By keeping our focus on these linked relationships, we aim to answer the following questions:

  • What explains internal and external displacement of the Kurdish communities in the past and present?
  • What influences the ways in which Kurdish migrants organise their activities and shape their collective action—as well as their identities and sense of belonging—in the receiving societies?
  • What impact does the question of statelessness have on displacement, belonging, and diaspora?

In addressing these questions, we present a conceptual approach to the widespread phenomenon of statelessness in the Kurdish context, examining how statelessness simultaneously deprives the full enjoyment not only of citizenship rights but also of self-rule, that is, systematic violations of citizens’ rights and liberties, on the one hand, and communal rights, protection, and recognition, on the other. We argue that belonging to, and identification with, a polity or host society can be best achieved if inclusion and recognition come together to inform citizenship.

Key findings

  • The Kurdish diaspora results from multiple and recurrent strategies of state-led demographic engineering and displacement to which the Kurdish communities in each of the four states (Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria), to varying degrees and intensity, have been subjected.
  • The Kurdish diaspora that began in the 1980s continued so that currently the Kurds not only constitute one of the largest stateless nations in the world, but also one of the largest diaspora communities.
  • There is little comprehensive statistical data on the Kurdish population in Europe and existing data is conflated and confused  because European countries register migrants according to their nationality, not their ethnic affiliations and therefore Kurds remain registered as ‘Turkish’, ‘Iranian’, ‘Iraqi’ and ‘Syrian’ when they arrive in Europe. This policy has not only subsumed Kurdish identity under an ethnic categorisation that does not distinguish Kurds from other minority ethnic groups, but it also imposes upon them an unacceptable national identity that most have spent their lives opposing.
  • Based on our fieldwork and a growing body of literature, we argue that the conflict generated Kurdish diaspora can be seen as a politicised, plural, and hybrid formation that has been shaped not only by the fundamental experience of statelessness, violence, and displacement in the country of origin but also by opportunities and difficulties in the Europe.
  • The emergent Kurdish diaspora is no longer a community of refugees. There are significant Kurdish professions and companies in Germany, Great Britain and Sweden. The Kurdistan Regional Government can benefit from the diaspora’s unique ideas, skills and resources to persuade them to invest economically and culturally in conflict affected Kurdistan. This could support Kurdistan’s economic diversification and help build transnational networks, strengthen ties between sending and receiving countries, and directly contribute to development efforts.


  • We would like to emphasise the immense importance of a politics of recognition toward the Kurdish diaspora by host societies in Europe, which will facilitate both a deeper understanding of their conditions and a better integration into the country of settlement.
  • The Kurdistan Regional Government should consider Kurdish diaspora as (i) a socio-economic source of development, reconstruction, human skills, and knowledge transfer, (ii) a bridge-building force between homeland and receiving societies, and last but not least, (iii) as an agent of social change and collective action for implementing gender equality and good governance policies.