Young Iraqi Kurds are forced to flee because of the crisis and lack of work

Both students and teachers in universities in northern Iraq are haunted by the specter of unemployment. Many people speak of the increasing number of empty seats in classrooms throughout the semi-autonomous Kurdish area -- once filled by students who left for Europe.

Young Iraqi Kurds are forced to flee because of the crisis and lack of work

Both students and teachers in universities in northern Iraq are haunted by the specter of unemployment. Many people speak of the increasing number of empty seats in classrooms throughout the semi-autonomous Kurdish area -- once filled by students who left for Europe.

Others who are still there, such as Zhewar Karzan, a 21-year-old student in law, are making plans for departure.

He doesn't see a future in Ranya, a town nestled between picturesque mountains and rivers. He said that a college degree does not guarantee a job and that his parents struggle to cover the bills.

Karzan hopes to leave the country with other hopeful migrants in spring and try his luck. Jiyar, his brother, was taken to Italy by a smuggler in 2016. He eventually arrived in Britain, where he supports the whole family and works in a pizza shop.

Karzan said, "I will be joining him."

The choice is between staying home and suffering from corruption, or trying to escape to Europe, where they risk financial ruin or even death.

Although there aren't any hard statistics, it is believed that a significant number of young Iraqi Kurds have fled, as they see no hope for their country. Students who have remained are finding it difficult to stay motivated as getting an education is not a guaranteed path to a job.

Middle East economies that are struggling to keep up with rising populations have not been able to grow. According to U.N. estimates, there would be between 43,000 and 54,000 new jobs in the three Iraqi Kurdish regions each year to absorb young people entering the labor force.

A persistently high rate of unemployment has been caused by the gap between slow economic growth and a youth bulge. According to a U.N. survey, the unemployment rate for Iraqi Kurds aged 15-29 is 24% and 69% respectively. Although the government claims these numbers have increased in the past three years, official statistics are not available.

Discontent has erupted on the campuses of Iraqi Kurdish universities. Recent protests in Irbil and Sulaymaniyah about student stipends that have been frozen since 2014 highlight growing disillusionment with government.

Because of the war against Islamic State group's extremist Islamic State group, and the cold relations with the Baghdad-based federal Government of Iraq, the Kurdish regional government stopped paying stipends. This further stalled budget allocations to public workers. The oil-exporting Kurdish region of Iraq was further hit by a drop in oil prices.

The stipends of between $40 and $70 per month covered transportation, books, clothes, and other basic necessities.

Students demanded that government aid be resumed after the recent rise in oil prices above $70 per barrel. Students staged protests at Raparin University, Sulaymaniyah, and other locations to demand that stipends be restored.

Students were treated with batons and tear gas. For a week, classes at Ranya's main university were cancelled. Karzan, the potential migrant, claimed that the protests were hijacked by political groups and became violent.

Students also claimed that universities were incapable of producing qualified graduates for the job market. Students claimed that institutions are corrupted by nepotism, and are directly or indirectly controlled through funding and appointments by political leaders.

The walls of university halls are adorned with posters of Kurdish leaders -- a constant reminder about the power of the political parties in the region.

Teachers are no exception to this pull. Sulaymaniyah University professor said that he was often contacted by superiors asking him to pass grades on behalf of the children of high-ranking officials. One other said that he was discouraged from criticizing the ruling elite during his graduate courses. Both teachers spoke anonymously, afraid of losing their jobs.

Aram Hamza stated that he is sick of political nepotism in general and wants to go.

The 20-year old student said, "You need connections in order to survive here." "If I were the son of a powerful man, I would be able to get a job.

The Iraqi Kurdish area is more prosperous than the rest. This is due to power-sharing among the two dominant Kurdish parties, which have divided the region into zones for control. Each party has its own institutions and can secure loyalties by appointment. The region's largest employer is still the government.

These patronage networks are not available to Iraqi Kurds. They are either unable or unwilling to find work, or they struggle for years with wage delays and cutbacks.

Serena Wso stated that she is worried about her parents' financial burden because of the high cost of her education. Her father, who is a government worker, receives $412 per month.

She said, "My father's income is so low." "And the government doesn't do anything to help."

Salah Sabir, a math major, said that he was considering dropping out after being disappointed by the inability to find work for his older sisters, who both earned dental degrees.

Ali Barez, a 20 year-old Irbil history student, stated that he worries every day about finding work as a teacher once he graduates. He claimed that there have not been any openings in years. Six of his friends have recently left Europe, and he might follow them if he has enough money to pay the smugglers.

Jiyar Othman is an English teacher. He said that students often ask him why he studies if there aren't jobs after graduation. Many college graduates end up working in manual labor or in restaurants for less than $137 per month.

He said, "It's difficult to motivate them." They don't see the light at the end of it."

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