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Refugee Summit in Des Moines Seeks to Continue Iowa’s Warm Welcome

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Refugee Summit

DES MOINES, Iowa – It’s a conversation the nation is having in this heated election year: the vast number of refugees fleeing war-torn countries like Iraq and Syria, and what to do with all of them.

“We are expecting probably 500 more refugees between now and the end of the year,” said Helene Grossman with the United Way of Central Iowa. “And this year, there will be more refugees settled than there have been in a long time.”

That’s why a summit held here in Des Moines this weekend is seeking to give refugees coming to Iowa a warmer welcome.

“In our conversations we realized there was a lack of information in our community about what refugees are, who they are, where they’re coming from,” Grossman said.

Refugees like Benjamin Munanira, who came to Iowa four years ago from the Congo, are here Friday to give their insight on the transition from there to here, hoping Iowa businesses and non-profits can better help them assimilate.

“First of all is the language; the biggest problem is the language,” he said. “If you cannot communicate with the people, you are shy every time.”

Strategies on learning English, getting a job, finding childcare so you can go to school – for refugee families, the list goes on.

“I actually came to Iowa with the first influx of Bosnian refugees in 1993,” said Zeljka Krvavica, a refugee and organizer for the summit. “It is also crucial time in the state of Iowa to show that refugees are successful, that refugees are not burden to society. That refugees are taxpayers, they buy houses, they buy cars, they invest in education of their children.”

But she’ll be the first to tell you Iowa is doing a great job already at greeting refugees with open arms.

“I have to say that this state has been very, very helpful,” she said. “Very friendly, very open to refugees.”

Friday’s portion of the refugee summit was focused on Iowa business leaders, non-profits, and citizens who want to better welcome refugees. Saturday’s portion is focused on refugees and how to help them succeed in Iowa. It’s free and open to the public, starting at 8 a.m. at Plymouth Church, located at 4126 Ingersoll Avenue.