Refugee populations in Minnesota

Major refugee groups residing in Minnesota

major refugee groups resettling in the Twin Cities:

In addition to the ethnic specific information, the following websites provide useful background information:

Cultural Profiles – Cultural Orientation Resource Center

Background Notes / Country Profiles – Department of State

Profiles of ethnic people groups of the world with the least followers of Jesus Christ – Joshua Project


The United States is a nation founded by immigrants. Because our founding fathers understood what it was like to live under oppression, they enshrined basic human liberties in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Among these are democracy, freedom of religion, speech and assembly, protection from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to due process of the law. These are things which many people around the world live without, even today.

For over 200 years, the U.S. has offered refuge to people fleeing persecution in their home countries. The Statue of Liberty stands today as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy.

Minnesota has a rich tradition of welcoming immigrants and refugees. In fact, in the year 1900, immigrants made up 29% of Minnesota’s population, 2/3 of who were from Germany, Sweden, and Norway.  In 2000, immigrants made up only 5.3% of Minnesota’s population. One common misperception about immigration “then and now” is that immigrants in 1900 assimilated faster than they do now. However, we forget that Minnesotans in 1900 could go to a church service and read a newspaper in their home language, and may have lived and worked with people from their home country.

Refugees are a specific category of immigrants who have fled persecution in their home country, are unable to integrate into another country, and have no other durable solutions. Many times refugees come from camps, where they were warehoused for years or decades with no possibility of returning home or settling in the neighboring country. Since1979, Minnesota has welcomed more than 90,000 refugees directly, and many others have moved to Minnesota from other states. The largest groups historically were Hmong, Somalis, Vietnamese, Ethiopians, Liberians, Cambodians, Bosnians, and people from the Former Soviet Union. The most recent refugee groups to arrive in Minnesota include Karen and other refugees from Burma, Nepali-speaking refugees from Bhutan and Iraqis. In total, Minnesota has received refugees from over 90 countries since 1979.

Immigration has dramatically changed the Twin Cities during the past century. For example, the Cedar Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis was home to a large Scandinavian community in the late 1890s. It became an artistic neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s with a large population of hippies. Today it is home to a large Somali community. The area has been nicknamed “Mogadishu on the Mississippi.”

why Minnesota?

There are many reasons why refugees make their new home here in Minnesota. Their motivations are similar to those of other Minnesotan residents – good schools, robust social services, an active arts community, relatively low unemployment, and friendly, welcoming people. Refugee communities have thrived in Minnesota in the past, taking advantage of historically high employment and affordable housing. While these characteristics have soured with the current economic environment, new refugees continue to come to Minnesota to join family, friends, and well-established refugee communities.

did you know?

  • Minneapolis is home to more Somalis than any other city in the US.
  • St. Paul has the largest Hmong community in the US.
  • The Liberian populations in Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park are some of the largest communities in the US.
  • St. Paul has a growing population of Karen, a minority ethnic group from Burma, and is currently one of the largest in the US.
  • There are three Somali malls in the Twin Cities.
  • Babani’s, a restaurant in St. Paul was the first Kurdish Restaurant to open in the U.S.
  • The Philips Neighborhood is the most diverse neighborhood in the entire US. Over 100 ethnic groups are represented in the neighborhood
  • You do not have to go far to find delicious ethnic food, exotic spices, produce, or ethnic markets. The International Market Directory published by the University of Minnesota lists over 85 ethnic restaurants, markets, and places to experience the culinary diversity of the Twin Cities.