The University of Iowa

“Refugees in the Heartland” topic of April 5 WorldCanvass, part of 2013 Provost's Global Forum

March 12th, 2013

Who is a refugee? What distinguishes refugees from immigrants? When and how is refugee status recognized by nations and governments? How do refugee crises arise and what can be done to aid refugees in resettlement?  What’s the history of refugee resettlement in the Midwest?  These are just a few of the questions WorldCanvass guests will address on the April 5 program “Refugees in the Heartland.”  The program takes place from 5-7 p.m. in the Senate Chamber of Old Capitol Museum and is free and open to the public.

We’re all too familiar with news reports of refugee crises erupting on the borders of nations in conflict.   To mention only one current example…..the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that one million Syrians have abandoned their homes since the outbreak of civil war and have sought safety in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.  Up to 7,000 new refugees arrive in these camps every day—78% of whom are women and children.  The UNHCR estimates that 42.5 million men, women, and children around the world need protection, shelter, and assistance from the UN Refugee Agency.

Refugee crises are real, and so is the damage done to individuals.  Some may be able to return to their countries of origin after the conflict ends, but millions look for resettlement opportunities in new lands where they may have no family, no history, and no ties of any kind.  WorldCanvass guests will discuss the international refugee picture, the refugee experience in the American Midwest (the “heartland”), and personal stories of life as a refugee. WorldCanvass participants will include representatives from the UNHCR as well as refugee-oriented non-governmental organizations and members of refugee communities now living in the Midwest.  Special guests are supermodel and UN refugee agency supporter Alek Wek (forced to flee warfare in what is now South Sudan as a child of 14) and writer Kao Kalia Yang (born in a Thai refugee camp, and raised in Minnesota after immigrating to the U.S. at the age of 6).

This program is part of the Provost’s Global Forum, a four-day, multi-event conference of the same name taking place from April 4-7, with many events open to the public.  The Thursday night keynote address will be given by Former Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, current president of the World Food Prize Foundation.  For information on all conference events, visit:

WorldCanvass is a production of UI International Programs.  Program partners are UITV, the Pentacrest Museums, KRUI, and Information Technology Services.  For more information on WorldCanvass, contact Joan Kjaer at or visit