Refugees Bring Diversity to Iowa

Dec 31, 2015

Twenty years ago in Iowa, the influx of latino workers and their families was a large topic of conversation. Today, refugee programs are working with more than 180 different languages and are helping migrants from all over the world navigate culture in Iowa, and starting to include ideas of sexual identity and socio-economic status in the conversation.

During this hour of River to River, we hear from Henny Ohr, Executive Director of the Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center, about the influx of refugees from Burma who have been relocating to Iowa.

“Burma has one of the longest running civil wars in the world,” she explains. “There have been refugees fleeing from that country for more than 60 years. Around 7,000 of them are living in Iowa.”

Despite the influx of refugees filtering into the state, there are a lack of social services to help them get assimilated, according to Ohr. Refugees from Nepal, Sudan and other parts of Southeast Asia have also been moving to the state in the last decade. 

In addition to a lack of services, the number of families willing to host refugees has decreased by around 93 percent since September 11, 2001.

During this River to River conversation, Mark Grey, Director of the Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership at the University of Northern Iowa; Professor Michelle Devlin, who also works with the Center for Immigrant Leadership; and Georgina Dodge, Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Iowa, also join the conversation.