Research on migration’s internal dynamics has focused on labour migration and drawn heavily on cumulative causation theory. It is often believed that pioneer labour migrants of middling socioeconomic selectivity facilitate the migration of others in their networks by reducing the costs and risks of migration through practical assistance. Expanding migrant networks can allow for labour migration to grow although macrostructural conditions change. For asylum migration in the context of armed conflict, the mechanisms whereby migration grows may very well differ. For one thing, pioneer asylum migrants in such contexts are often social elites. What is the relationship between the movement of these elites and that of subsequent asylum migrants? This article traces the evolution of Iraqi Kurdish asylum migration to Europe from its inception by elite pioneer migrants to its continuation by non-elites, during four decades of altered contextual conditions. The analysis is based on 106 semi-structured interviews with Iraqi Kurdish migrants. An evolving interplay between exogenous and endogenous dynamics is observed, and so are commonalities with the social processes that underpin labour migration. The basic principles of cumulative causation seem to be operating, yet there is little to indicate that established migrants functioned as ‘bridgeheads’ for newcomers. The empirical analysis feeds into a concluding conceptual discussion in which I argue that, compared to labour migration, asylum migration from conflict-affected areas may be relatively less driven by the interpersonal networks that reduce costs and risks, and relatively more driven by what the article coins ‘emulation’, the observational learning of migration.
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