Cheap Oil Could Fuel Europe’s Refugee Crisis

As the price of oil falls, Iraq’s Kurds and the UN are struggling to look after those fleeing conflict.

How Cheap Oil Could Fuel Europe's Refugee Crisis

If only from a purely financial perspective, Europe should care about the refugee crisis engulfing Iraqi Kurdistan, according to the UN.

“There’s no good way of putting it,” said Frederic Cussigh. “It’s unfortunately a lot cheaper to look after the people here than to look after the people in Europe.”

The Frenchman is a Senior Field Coordinator for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), helping to run a small refugee camp on the outskirts of the regional capital Erbil.

It costs just $1,500 to host one refugee per year here, said Cussigh, as kids played in a shallow dirt trench behind him. In Europe, he says, it costs “10 times that.”

But funding for camps like this is running out. The Kurdistan Regional Government is hobbled by an economic crisis, fuelled by a fallout with Baghdad over oil revenues and by the weak price of crude.


In the midst of this situation, donations from foreign governments haven’t kept up with demand. There are now an estimated 1.8 million refugees living in Iraqi Kurdistan – a region with a population of around 5.2 million.

“It’s a territory the size of Switzerland,” said Cussigh. “The pressure is enormous.” With the UNHCR saying it’s able to provide shelter for just 3% of the refugee population in the Erbil area, Cussigh predicts many will try to make the often perilous journey to Europe.

“They have less and less to lose, and more and more reason to take a risk, and that’s the scary part,” he said. The refugees have been told of the dangers of going to Europe, said Cussigh.

“Nevertheless, they do ”

Map of Kurdish regions in Iraq and Syria
Map of Kurdish regions in Iraq and Syria

More from Kurdistan:

The Peshmerga’s Real Battle: How to Get Paid

Bullets, Bombs and Backpay: The Peshmerga's Real Battle

 The Oil Standoff Crippling Kurdistan

The Oil Standoff Crippling Kurdistan
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