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Knowing how to go: Iraqi asylum seekers and legal pathways to get to and stay in Europe - November 2017

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Executive Summary

Many refugees and other migrants migrate to Europe to seek asylum, and with asylum a more secure life and improved livelihoods. Recent REACH assessments have found that a number of these refugees and other migrants lack information about legal migration pathways when they set out on their migration journeys.1 Aside from asylum, they are often unaware of other types of legal mechanisms that would enable them to remain in Europe legally.

Among refugees and other migrants, Iraqis remain a highly represented group, the second most common nationality arriving in Europe via Greece, and the third most common nationality applying for asylum in Europe.
Ongoing violent conflict has displaced millions of Iraqis internally and has pushed thousands of others to external migration. In 2015, 121,500 Iraqis arrived and sought asylum for the first time in Europe. The same year, 26,545 first instance decisions were made for Iraqi asylum seekers, 15% of which were rejected. In 2016, as the EU worked to process 2015’s arrivals, the number of first instance decisions for Iraqis accordingly rose to 103,190, of which, approximately 37% were rejections – a jump in the rate of rejections from the year before. A lack of information and access to alternative legal migration pathways and protections means two things for Iraqis. First, Iraqis rely on asylum rather than other legal migration pathways that might be more appropriate for their case and more likely to be granted, and second, that many who are rejected for asylum feel they have no other option than to return to Iraq. With such large numbers of Iraqis on the move, there is a need for a greater understanding of Iraqi refugees and other migrants’ knowledge of and access to legal migration pathways and other protection services.

This assessment seeks to better understand what types of legal migration pathways and other protection services Iraqi refugees and other migrants are aware of and attempt to access at different points during their migration journey. Furthermore, it highlights when, where and why Iraqi refugees and other migrants fail to access protection services.

The assessment is based on data collected through 50 semi-structured interviews conducted between 23 and 27 July 2017 with Iraqi returnees in the Kurdish Region of the Republic of Iraq (KRI) and the greater Baghdad region. The points below provide an overview of its key findings:

  1. Very few respondents possessed knowledge of legal migration pathways prior to migrating from Iraq to Europe. The majority of participants were generally unfamiliar with legal migration pathways.
    Several participants indicated that the only channels of migration they were familiar with were irregular (such as purchasing a visa to Turkey and then traveling irregularly by sea to Greece). The 10 individuals that were aware of legal migration pathways did not try to access them, largely due to the high costs related to visa application and the lengthy procedure they anticipated. While 18 participants had heard of asylum, their answers reflected a lack of knowledge surrounding the asylum application procedure as many believed they could apply for asylum while still in Iraq.

  2. Once they arrived in Europe, the majority of Iraqis were aware only of asylum as a legal migration pathway to remain in Europe. Aside from asylum, few individuals knew of other mechanisms. Thirty-three individuals were aware of and tried to access asylum. Twenty-one of the 33 participants were refused, while the other twelve left Europe before receiving a decision on their application. Only one man was successfully granted asylum.

  3. While 19 participants were aware of the possibility to appeal a negative asylum decision, only three individuals tried to access appeal procedures. Respondents generally did not have confidence that they would be granted asylum when they appealed. They also described the process as taking too long.

  4. Very few participants were aware of other protection services that could have legally enabled them to stay in Europe. Of the 50 respondents, only two knew of subsidiary protection and only four knew of temporary protection.

  5. Only one participant in 50 reported new knowledge of legal migration pathways and other protection services upon return to Iraq. Despite an assumption based on previous research, that upon return individuals would discuss migration with friends, family and community members and likely learn about pathways they had not been aware of previously, this did not appear to happen.8 The vast majority of returnees reported not having learned of any new legal migration pathways or other protection services since returning to Iraq.

  6. Finally, when asked about the types of legal migration pathways and other protection services they wished they had known about prior to migration or while still in Europe, 34 returnees out of 50 reported none. The rest expressed a wish to have been better informed of existing legal migration pathways or other protection services before migration or while in Europe, with half of them reporting that they wished they had known about subsidiary protection in particular.