Iraqis in Australia
Australia’s Iraqi population was first documented in 1976 when the census recorded 2,273 Iraq-born people living in Australia. That figure had doubled by 1991, but remained relatively low in comparison to other overseas-born populations. An increased number of arrivals began after 1991, following the outbreak of the Gulf War and the suppression of and religious minorities in Iraq. According to the 2011 census, over 80% of the Iraq-born population has arrived since this wave of migration.
Migration from Iraq continued over the course of the US-led invasion into the country. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fled to Syria to escape violence during this war and have found themselves doubly displaced since the eruption Syria’s civil war in 2011. Some have had to put more distance between them and the danger in the region, fleeing to Western countries. Today, most Iraqis arriving in Australia have migrated as refugees under Refugee and Special Humanitarian Programs. They are often seeking protection from violence that targets and religious minority groups, and radical Islamist terrorist organisations.
There is a strong representation of minority groups in the Iraqi Australian community, as many people have had to migrate for safety from ethno-religious persecution. For example, the Iraq-born population in Australia includes Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians, Turks, Turkmens, Chaldeans, Mandaeans, Yazidis, Jews and other minorities born in Iraq. There is a particularly large demographic of Iraqi Shi’ite Muslims and Christians in Australia. The 2011 census revealed more than half of the Iraq-born population in Australia identify as Christian, while 32% identified as Muslim. Meanwhile, in Iraq it is estimated only around 1% of Iraq’s population is Christian and 97% are Muslim. From this is can be appreciated that the Iraqi population in Australia is diverse.
As the Iraq overseas-born population is predominantly a refugee population, the community faces particularly difficult settlement challenges. It is likely that newly immigrated Iraqis will have been exposed to a range of traumatic experiences. Most Iraq-born people will have a familiarity with war, violence, oppression and/or harsh authority. Therefore, it is important to be sensitive to the reality that many Iraqi residents in Australia may have experienced or witnessed the atrocities of ISIS or DAESH, the American invasion of Iraq, the Gulf War, the Syrian civil war or ethno-religious persecution.
At the time of the 2011 census, over 60% of Iraqis lived in New South Wales and the average Iraq-born person had a weekly income that was half that of an Australian-born person.