President Trump’s Policy towards Kurdish Refugees

By Michael M. Gunter
Submitted to Session P4722 (Trump's Foreign Policies toward the Kurds, 2017 Annual Meeting
Intl Rltns/Aff
The unexpected victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential elections in November 2016 has brought a potentially new element into the important Kurdish question. The purpose of this paper will be to analyze the new president’s policies towards Kurdish refugees. My paper will be based on my visits to Kurdish refugee camps during December 2016 in northern Iraq, interviews I carried out at that time, internal Kurdish documents, and media accounts, among others, including new material that will surely arise. My paper will begin with a brief introduction to the current international political and legal situation of Kurdish refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) caused largely by the horrific Syrian civil war and ISIS attacks both in Syria and Iraq, especially the genocidal attacks against the Yezidis. The main body of the paper will deal specifically with Trump’s position on the issue and what this might project for the future. On the campaign trail, Trump took a hard-line against admitting Syrian refugees to the US declaring: “If I win, they are going back.” Syrian refugees listened with alarm as Trump called them “terrorists” and incorrectly blamed them for violent attacks in the US and Europe. However, a tough Trump position on admitting refugees to the United States might lead him to give them more support in the Middle East and Europe. Refugees come near the top of Trump’s announced policy of what to do first upon assuming office. Given recent terrorist events and associated refugee issues, many in Congress and the public are also more attuned to refugee issues than is usually the case. During the presidential campaign Trump also declared his solidarity with the Kurdish people on at least three separate occasions. During a talk on the failed coup attempt in Turkey on 16 July 2016, Trump again said he was a “big fan of the Kurds” and expressed hope that Turkey and the Kurds could work together against ISIS. However, during an earlier interview in September 2015, Trump confused the Kurds for the Quds Force, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, but did say that they [meaning the Kurds] “have been horribly mistreated.”