Africans in Iowa

Most of Iowa’s African newcomers are refugees. Refugees differ from immigrants because they are no longer able to live in their home countries. This is certainly the case in Africa, which has the world’s largest refugee problem. Africa only has about one-fifth of the world’s population, but it has more than one-half of the world’s refugees. Although many of Iowa’s African newcomers hope to return home someday, most come to Iowa to start over again to create new lives for themselves and their children.

Coming to a new and strange place like Iowa presents a number of challenges for African refugees. The first cold winters are a shock, as are many cultural differences. There are challenges of being black in predominately white communities and workplaces. Although many African refugees speak English, most do not, and learning English takes a great deal of time and effort.

According to the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services, refugees settled in Iowa came from Ethiopia, Burundi, Congo, Somalia, Sudan and other African nations.

Sources: Mark A. Grey, Ph.D., Anne C. Woodrick, Ph.D., Michele Yehieli, D.P.H., and James Hoelscher, The New Iowans, A Companion Book to the PBS Miniseries “The New Americans”, 2003, Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration, University of Northern Iowa