Population Movements

Iraqi Refugee Health Profile

To Jordan and Syria

Calculating the total Iraqi refugee population is difficult because Iraqi refugees are not required to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 15. Some refugees avoid registration for fear that they will be detained or deported. In 2006, Jordan had the highest estimated ratio of refugees to total population of any country in the world 16. Due to the current unrest in Syria, Iraqi refugees there are increasingly returning to Iraq 35.

The first waves of Iraqi refugees arriving in Syria and Jordan in 2003 brought resources with them, and they did not need assistance. Most did not register with UNHCR and lived alongside non-refugee Iraqis, urban Jordanians, and Syrians 4, 6. Subsequent waves of Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan tend to live with families or rent apartments, often in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions 17.

Table 1: Top Countries of Residence for Iraqi Refugees who Resettled in the United States, 2008-2013 (N=90,607)

Country of residence pre-immigration Arrivals in the United States
Jordan 22,278
Syria 19,902
Iraq 19,454
Turkey 15,355
Lebanon 8,501
Egypt 2,924
United Arab Emirates 719
Yemen 221
Tunisia 214
Kuwait 204

Source: CDC’s Electronic Disease Notification system (EDN) 18

To the United States

Before Iraqis came to the United States as refugees, many came as immigrants. Detroit, Chicago, and San Diego have the largest Iraqi-American communities in the country (6). Iraqi refugees resettling in the United States in recent years are from a number of countries (Table 1) and they are joining nearly 12,000 Iraqis who were admitted after the first Gulf War (6). Approximately 91,000 Iraqis arrived from 2008 to 2013 (Figure 2). The largest communities are in California, Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and Illinois (Figure 3) (19). However, once refugees arrive in a state as part of the US Resettlement Program, they are free to relocate elsewhere, and secondary migration to join an already established Iraqi community is common. Of Iraqi immigrants resettled in the United States, approximately 30% are under 15 years old, 50% are 15-44 years old, 15% are 45-64 years old, and 4% are ≥65 years (Figure 4) (18).

Figure 2: Iraqi Refugee Arrivals in the United States, 2008-2013 (N=90,607)

The graph shows the number of Iraqi refugee Arriving to the US between 2008-2013.

Source: US Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System (WRAPS) 19

Figure 3: States of Primary Resettlement for Iraqi Refugees, FY 2008-2013 (N=90,607)

This map of the United States shows in which states Iraqi refugees have been resettled.  The top 5 states are: California, Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and Illinois.

Top 10 States of primary resettlement for Iraqi refugees

Top 10 States* No. (%)
California 20,240 22
Michigan 13,860 15
Texas 7,628 8
Arizona 5,574 6
Illinois 5,307 6
Mass. 3,152 3
Virginia 2,854 3
New York 2,614 3
Washington 2,374 3
Tennessee 1,933 2

* The remaining 45,051 refugees resettled in 39 other states. Source: WRAPS 19

Age Distribution for Iraqi Refugees Resettled in the United States, 2008-2013 (N=90,607)*


The graph shows the age distribution of Iraqi Refugees resettled in the US.  The graph shows that for both males and females the most common age group is 15-44 years old.

* 3,039 refugees of unknown age
Source: CDC’s Electronic Disease Notification System (EDN)

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