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Amazing journey from refugee to US Congress
By Jerry Brownstein
Ilhan Omar, who lived in a Somali refugee camp when she was a girl, was recently elected to be the first Muslim women to serve in the US Congress. Ilhan and her family fled the civil war in Somalia in 1991, and she spent four years in the squalid Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. At the age of 12 she and her six brothers and sisters were fortunate to be chosen for the US resettlement programme. In America she found freedom and the opportunity for advanced education. She became a community organizer dedicated to making life better for those who are disadvantaged, and this has led to her groundbreaking election to Congress.
The Dadaab camp has grown into a sprawling complex where life is harsh, precarious and chaotic. For the people in camps like this the US refugee resettlement programme has always been their principal hope of a better future. Since its creation in 1980, it has allowed hundreds of thousands of people from around the world to be admitted to the US. Sadly, this has come to an end as the current US administration, led by Donald Trump, has destroyed the programme. In 2018 only 251 Somali refugees were resettled in the US - a massive drop from the 9,300 admitted in 2016 when Obama was President.
As a new congresswoman Ilhan is now in a position to help restore this programme and others that give hope and aid to those in need. She is part of a wave of newly elected progressive women who are determined to make a positive difference in the US government. They are led by 29 year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the dynamic energy of these women is shaking up the establishment.