• Syrian refugee families wait to be registered with the UNHCR services. (AP)
Refugees from Syria and Iraq are expected to dwarf the number from other countries next year and possibly account more than half of all humanitarian migrants in Australia.
By
Ben Winsor

3 Oct 2016 - 2:40 PM  UPDATED 3 Oct 2016 - 3:36 PM

The majority of Australia's refugees come from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar (Burma), statistics from the Department of Social Services show. 

Of the 11,114 refugees who arrived in Australia between July 2015 and June 2016, the majority came from those four countries. They were followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran and Thailand.

The Department of Social Services notes that migrants listed as coming from Thailand are likely of Burmese ethnicity, and those from Bhutan are likely of Nepalese ethnicity.

Those migrants may have been born into refugee camps on foreign soil, so their birthplaces aren't truly representative of the countries they're fleeing.

Syria and Iraq will make an even stronger showing in future statistics. Late last year the government announced an extra 12,000 humanitarian places to be made available for people displaced from those countries by the Syrian war.

Since the announcement, more than 10,000 humanitarian visas have been granted to Iraqi and Syrian refugees, although less than half that number have actually arrived.

Countries like Germany and Canada have taken significant numbers of Syrian refugees, but the vast majority of those affected by the war are either internally displaced or seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, such as Iraq, Turkey or Lebanon.

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Department of Immigration statistics released as part of a discussion paper on Australia's humanitarian migrant programme show the shifting mix of countries in the offshore humanitarian programme over the previous five years. 

This chart does not include refugees who apply for asylum after arriving in Australia, who make up roughly 20% of those granted asylum. Thailand would appear in around the middle of the list otherwise, owing to Nepalese refugees. 

Over the period above, Australia welcomed over one million migrants in total. Just over six per cent of them – about 73,000 - were refugees.

While there is some movement with the figures, the same countries appear consistently. 

Afghanistan, Iraq and Myanmar are the top three origin countries almost every year, with Syria pushing Afghanistan out in the most recent statistics.

The Democratic Republic of Congo appears in the top nine each year as well.

The north-east African countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia – neighbours on the Horn of Africa – all make regular appearances, as does Iran.

Sri Lanka drops out of the rankings after 2010/11 – following more than 20 years of civil war which ended in 2009.

Syria makes its first appearance on the list in 2013/14 before leaping to the second largest origin country in 2015/16. Bhutan dropped out of the top nine in 2015/16.

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The statistics show that while Australia has been keen to focus on refugees stranded within our region, the government's humanitarian programme has been strongly influenced by global flash-points. 

"The program operates flexibly to respond effectively to evolving humanitarian situations and global resettlement needs," a government discussion-paper says.

"Asia has been a key focus of the program, with the resettlement of some 18,000 refugees from Burma (Myanmar) including those in protracted refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, in Malaysia and in India.

"Australia has also resettled some 5200 Bhutanese refugees from Nepal since 2007–08."

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But the numbers show that conflicts in the Middle East have also been influential for the programme.

"Significant numbers of people from these regions continue to be in need of humanitarian assistance due to conflicts, primarily in Afghanistan and Iraq, and more recently in Syria," the paper says. "Resettlement from this region has increased from an average of around a third of the Programme from 1998 to 2009 to over half of the Programme since 2012–13."

Department of Social Services for roughly the same period of time show totals which tend to reflect the rankings.

From 1 April 2010 to 31 March 2015, Australia settled 13,488 refugees from Iraq, 12,228 from Afghanistan, 8,434 from Iran and 7,242 from Burma (Myanmar).

More than 73,800 refugees were settled in total over that period.

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