Former refugee becomes first Somali-American legislator in US

The newly-elected state representative of Minnesota fled Somalia's civil war as a child and lived in a refugee camp for years in Kenya.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Ilhan Omar’s victory came on the same day that Republican candidate Donald Trump won the US presidential election.

Updated Nov 10, 2016

Ilhan Omar may not be a household name in the United States, but the former refugee made history the same day Donald Trump edged past Hillary Clinton in the race to the White House.

Omar was elected as the first Somali-American legislator on Tuesday in the Minnesota House race. She came to the United States as a 12-year-old after fleeing the civil war in Somalia.

The 34-year-old is a practicing Muslim who wears hijab, a head covering, in keeping with her faith. Her election to the state house of representatives is significant especially after immigration and Islamophobia featured so prominently in the US presidential elections.

“It’s the beginning of something new,” Omar was quoted as saying by the Daily Star Tribune.

“This district has a legacy of making history. I am excited for our progressive values and to be able to be on the ground at the Capitol representing the diverse people of my district and being a champion with them and for them.”

A former aide to the Minneapolis City Council, Omar also served as director of policy at Women Organising Women, which encourages East African woman to take civic leadership roles. 

Her participation in politics has not come easy, she was beaten by seven or eight people and received a concussion during a tense caucus session, where violence broke out two years ago.

Defeating her Republican primary opponent 22-term Phyllis Kahn by almost 80 percent of the vote, Democrat Omar said her victory was “the culmination of more than a year of hard work.”

In a statement posted on her official website, Omar said she would continue “to build a more prosperous and equitable district.”

Two days before the US presidential elections, Trump said during a rally in Minnesota that the state had seen “first-hand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with very large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge.”

Nearly a third of Somali refugees resettled in the United States live in Minnesota. They number around 25,000 according to 2010 data, the latest available.

President-elect Trump ended up losing Minnesota to his Democratic rival Clinton 45 to 47 percent.

Reaction to Omar's win was overwhelmingly positive on social media:

Source: 
TRTWorld and agencies