Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Thesis (UNI Access Only)


Refugees--Burma; Refugees--Iowa; Migration, Internal--United States;


Refugees have been coming to the United States and primarily resettled in metropolitan areas. However, refugees have continually been secondary migrating to small metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas in order to provide their families better opportunities for integration in to their new society. Such secondary migration can create a strain on the local community that is ill prepared to accept a new population, so often this practice is discouraged. However, this has not stopped refugees from Burma from relocating from their initial resettlement to Iowa, where they often find employment in meat packing plants.

The thesis aims to examine the geographical, historical, institutional, programmatic and political arrangements of Burmese resettlement in Iowa, as well as examine the resettlement and integration experiences of these resettlement efforts in metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas in Iowa and examine their differences. Indicators of integration were adapted from Ager and Strang's (2008) conceptual framework, with added dimensions (spatial, community, social, and economic integration) and the factors that play a role in refugee integration. Mixed methods approach using qualitative methods (text analysis from newspapers, surveys, and interviews), quantitative methods (ethnic composition/dissimilarity indices), and geospatial techniques (kernel density models) were utilized in the effort to give a comprehensive understanding of the integration and resettlement experiences by refugees from Burma, as well as to examine which dimensions of integration could be affected by social factors.

Refugees from Marshalltown (nonmetropolitan area) and Waterloo (metropolitan area), Iowa with different levels of social and economic integrations were participants of this research. While occupational opportunities were available in both locales, refugees in Waterloo were able to take advantage of the mobility and different industries present, while Marshalltown participants primarily worked at the meat packing plant. Another important indicators were the accessibility to vehicles and the role it played in developing a comfort level in their new homes as refugees reported that while the communities are smaller than the larger metropolitan areas they are from, the preference for a vehicle made accessing resources more readily available, as well as exhibit a lower dependence on others and public transportation to make their own decisions. There we also significant differences in integration experience among refugees based on age, gender, education, and employment.

Overall, secondary migration to either Waterloo or Marshalltown appears to help refugees from Burma find their place. Without their secondary movement, they would be in a difficult economic situation, and making the decision to relocate and create opportunities for themselves. There appeared to be some differences in the resettling of a metropolitan place versus a nonmetropolitan as those in a larger setting have more economic and employment opportunities. Although employment opportunities remain a key factor, opportunities for spatial integration, coupled with social and civic, may be greater in more compact, smaller spaces, where the everyday use of space is similar by refugees and the host community members. Both groups may develop an attachment to local landscapes and places, and thus engage in place-based interactions that are not available, difficult or easily avoidable in larger urban centers. These findings indicate that refugee resettlement in smaller, less urbanized communities could have some advantages in comparison to larger metropolitan areas. Although other factors may negate these advantages, it appears necessary to focus more research efforts on smaller towns as current and potential recipients of refugees.

Potential future directions in this research could focus on a larger sample size, as well as focus on different ethnic groups, regional variations, rural areas, and different industries. It would also be of interest to include accessibility to vehicle as a potential indicator of integration in effort to see if the mobility and spatial integration of refugees is altered or improved upon in any manner.

Future improvements resettlement practices include the ORR reformatting their placement program through additional research on resettled refugees, specifically those in smaller communities, as well as consider nonmetropolitan communities as an initial placement site. There also needs to be improved communication between federal, state, and local organizations in improving their resettlement programs, as well as sharing information to local communities about newer populations moving to the area. The United States also needs to consider altering their resettlement program, with New Zealand’s program being an example of including other goals such as education, participation, health, and housing, as well as incorporating an orientation program and longer resettlement support.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of Geography

First Advisor

Andrey Petrov, Chair, Thesis Committee

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (viii, 154 pages)



File Format


Off-Campus Download