Iraq has a protracted history of security, political and economic challenges. Despite no longer being in a state of war, civil unrest has persisted since the withdrawal of United States and coalition troops in 2011. Violent, widespread loss of life is common, with more than two thousand people killed in bombings and other attacks between April and June 2013.

The population of Iraq is approximately 33 million and comprises a mix of Shia (65 per cent) and Sunni (35 per cent) Muslims. Iraq is not a signatory to the Refugees Convention or its Protocol.

Since the outbreak of civil unrest in Syria in March 2011, large numbers of Iraqi refugees have begun to return. In the year from June 2012 more than 50,000 Iraqis opted to repatriate from Syria despite ongoing instability in their country of origin.

UNHCR estimates there are 1.68 million asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq. This number is growing. Throughout 2013, people fleeing Syria sought refuge in Iraq. In June 2013, 159,140 Syrian refugees were registered in the country. Since August 2012, asylum seekers fleeing Syria have been turned away from the Iraqi border, with only “urgent humanitarian cases” being allowed to enter.

Asylum seekers flee Iraq due to fears of racial, religious and political persecution. Human Rights Watch has called human rights conditions in Iraq poor, particularly for detainees, journalists, activists, and women and girls.

Iraqi refugees have been a significant part of Australia’s Humanitarian Program. In 2011-2012, 494 Iraqi asylum seekers arriving onshore were granted a protection visa. A further 1472 received protection the offshore component of the humanitarian program. Iraqi refugees represented 14 per cent of the 13,759 refugee visas granted in 2011-2012.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Asylum Trends – Australia: 2011-12 Annual Publication (2012)

Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Australia's Humanitarian Program 2013-14 and beyond (2012)

Human Rights Watch, World Report 2013: Iraq (2013)