Ex-refugee at Dadaab Ilhan Omar to run for US Congress seat

Friday June 08 2018

Ilhan Omar gives an acceptance speech on election night in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 8, 2016. Omar, a former refugee from Somalia, is the first Somali-American Muslim woman to hold public office in America. PHOTO | STEPHEN MATUREN | AFP


A former refugee at Dadaab camp has announced that she is running for a seat in the United States Congress.

Ilhan Omar, a 36-year-old mother of three, made political history in 2016 when she became the first Somali to win election to a US state legislature.

“My success is not only for me but for every Somali, Muslim and minority group, particularly the young girls in  the Dadaab refugee camp, where I lived before coming to the US,” Ms Omar declared on the night she won her race for a legislative seat in the north-central state of Minnesota.

Ms Omar’s family fled Somalia in 1991 due to civil war. She spent four years in Dadaab until her family was cleared to emigrate to the US.

They settled in Minnesota, which now has a large Somali-American community. Ms Omar did not know English when she went to the US at the age 12. Eventually, she learnt the language  by watching television.

The sudden withdrawal of Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison, himself the first Muslim elected to the US Congress, prompted Ms Omar’s decision to run. She is one of the several candidates that will in an August 14 election choose the Democratic Party’s nominee for a seat in the 435-member US House of Representatives.


But victory for Ms Omar is not assured. One of her opponents is a prominent female politician, while two others have longer terms of service in the Minnesota legislature than her.

But Ms Omar is confident of winning due to her legislative record. “I have proven myself to be someone who shows up, takes on the hard fight and delivers, and I am ready to do that for the people of the 5th Congressional District,” she said on Wednesday.

Mr Mohamud Noor, a fellow Somali-American who lost a Democratic primary race to Ms Omar in 2016, said she is a strong contender.

"People are proud of her because of her accomplishment, and commitment to the public service,” he said.

The winner of the August 14 Democratic primary is likely to go on to defeat whichever Republican seeks the US House seat in the November general election.

The district has a large majority of Democratic voters who have given Congressman Ellison five consecutive two-year terms.