The Syrian Refugee Crisis in the Kurdish Region of Iraq: Explaining the Role of Borders in Situations of Forced Displacement

Filippo Dionigi

International Migration, 2018


This article proposes a conceptual analysis of borders applied to the examination of forced displacement and its response from a receiving state, focusing on the case of more than 250,000 Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). The author argues that the flight of Syrian refugees to KRI is the manifestation of dynamics more complex than can be explained by traditional notions of statehood and sovereignty. The author argues that there is a “thin border” between Syria and Iraq because there are active cross-border interactions among Kurds, which have become even more significant with the loss of control of the Syrian state, a weak Iraqi state, and an emboldened Kurdish authority. The analysis illustrates the ways that a thin border shapes the dynamics of displacement from Syria and contributes to a relatively receptive attitude towards Syrian Kurdish refugees. Refugees can count on political interests, social solidarity, and economic opportunities to ease their integration in KRI. The author concludes that a thin border has scarce containment capacity, and that the relations that connect two sides of the border establish a shared space for politics, society, and economies.