Africans in Iowa

Most of Iowa’s African newcomers are refugees. Refugees differ from immigrants because they can no longer live in their home countries. This is undoubtedly the case in Africa, which has the world’s most significant refugee problem. Africa only has about one-fifth of the world’s population but 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 several 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 do not speak English, and learning it takes much time and effort.

According to the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services, refugees settled in Iowa hailed 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, the University of Northern Iowa