Who are refugees?

Refugees are people fleeing violence and persecution—in Congo, Iraq, Eritrea, and other countries in crisis. They are seeking safety and the chance to move their lives forward.

Why are refugees arriving in Iowa City?

The United States has a long tradition of sheltering those fleeing conflict and persecution. Once refugees have been identified by the United Nations refugee agency and cleared for resettlement, the U.S. government works with the IRC and eight other national resettlement agencies to help them restart their lives in America. Out of the 25 million refugees in the world, fewer than 1 percent are considered for resettlement worldwide.

Refugees may be placed in a city where they have relatives or friends, or where there’s an established community that shares their language or culture. Other considerations include the cost of living and a community’s ability to provide medical services. However, as legal U.S. residents, refugees may live in any city and state they choose.

The IRC in Iowa City provides a safe place to live, a furnished apartment, access to quality health care services, English and job skills classes, and employment services, to ensure refugees can successfully integrate into their new communities and achieve economic self-sufficiency. Iowa City community members make this work possible, through financial donations, in-kind contributions and volunteering.

Learn more about how refugee resettlement works.

How does the IRC help refugees in Iowa City?

IRC’s staff, volunteers and community partners work together to empower refugees to restore their dignity and self-reliance and participate in their new communities. 

Our programs are designed to ensure refugees thrive in communities across Iowa—whether ensuring children are enrolled in school, adults become self-reliant through employment or starting businesses, or families receive acute medical care they need to recover from trauma or illness. The IRC helps those in need to rebuild their lives and regain control of their future in their new home community.

Our Programs:

  • Reception and Placement: Meeting critical needs in the early months after arriving in the United States.  IRC staff and community partners ensure newly arrived refugees are greeted at the airport; have a furnished home; receive time-limited rental assistance; have access to nutritious food, healthcare and education; and are given appropriate social services referrals.
  • Employment Services: Early self-sufficiency through employment is the foundation of the US Refugee Program.  IRC staff and volunteers provide job readiness training, vocational counseling, resume preparation, job search and placement services, and financial assistance for basic needs with the goal of helping refugees find their first job in America.  Employment services are provided to refugees for up to five years from their date of arrival.
  • English as a Second Language: IRC provides refugees the opportunity to learn ESL through beginner and intermediate ESL classes.  Classes are unique, open enrollment classes that ensure refugees can enroll in ESL as soon as they arrive in the US. Volunteer instructors and classroom aids play a key role in helping refugees improve their language skills to qualify for better jobs and help integrate more quickly into their new communities.
  • Intensive Case Management: Some refugees face barriers that make rapid employment difficult.  Others face cultural barriers that require additional training and orientation support to learn to navigate American systems independently.  Still others face crisis after an initial period of stability.  For those refugees, IRC provides intensive case management services for up to five years after arrival.


What services does the IRC provide to the wider community?

IRC has broadened its community engagement and now offers immigration, youth and English language programs to members of the community. 

How can I help refugees in Iowa City?

There are many ways that you can get involved with the IRC’s work in Iowa City. You can:

Donate Money:    When you donate to the IRC in Iowa, you provide emergency financial support for families to cover any unmet housing and medical costs. You support the distribution of food, school supplies, hygiene kits and other resources to new Americans arriving in Iowa. You invest in our local staff capacity—the heart of our essential programs and services—so there are compassionate and empathetic professionals ready to welcome families to their new home and help them secure employment, learn English, enroll in school and start to rebuild their lives. No donation is too small!

Become a Volunteer or Intern: Volunteers support all facets of our work! Community volunteers make the difference between a refugee transitioning from surviving to thriving with the skills and knowledge to be a full participant in their new community. 

Donate New or Gently Used Items: From gently used furniture and household goods to set-up apartments to old computers, bikes or TVs, the IRC seeks to provide refugees with items that will help them get restarted here in the US.

Host a DIY Fundraiser: Have fun hosting a fundraiser with IRC designated as your beneficiary.  Work with IRC staff to develop and implement your concept, including establishing your own donation page linked to the IRC’s website.

Hold a Donation Drive:  Help IRC meet critical needs of refugees by gathering together the new and gently used items from your friends, relatives, or community group.

Other Ways to Get Involved: sponsor a refugee through a community sponsorship program, hire a refugee, rent a house to a refugee family, name an IRC Classroom, and “like” us on Facebook!

What do refugees contribute to Iowa City?

Once they acclimate to their new environment, refugees often thrive and contribute to their communities, building careers, purchasing homes, starting businesses and gaining citizenship. Refugees are new Americans who have made Iowa their home, and are our friends, family, teachers, healthcare workers, food suppliers, neighbors, and colleagues.

Welcome from our director

Sara Terlouw

I’m incredibly excited to lead the startup of our new IRC office in Iowa City. As an Iowa native, I know well the welcoming culture and community that exists in this state. I’ve seen the dramatic success of refugees and immigrants who have come to Iowa and cannot wait to see the achievements of those individuals IRC will resettle in years to come.

I’m joining a dedicated and passionate team of professionals who put clients’ needs first, no matter how difficult the circumstances, and who know how to provide top notch services guided by a long-term vision.

Sarah Terlouw
Executive Director, Iowa