The lesson is to be hopeful’: Ilhan Omar’s journey from Somali refugee to US Congress

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Ilhan Omar, who lived in a Somali refugee camp when she was a girl and was elected to the US Congress last week, has said she hopes her victory would give hope to those whose childhoods resembled hers.
Omar fled the civil war in Somalia with her family in 1991 and spent four years in the Utango camp, near the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa, before arriving in the US with her six brothers and sisters under a resettlement programme.
“I would have loved to have heard a story like mine. I could have used it as an inspiration to get by. The lesson is to be hopeful, to dream and to aspire for more,” said the 36-year-old member-elect of the US House of Representatives for Minnesota’s fifth district.
Omar, a Democrat, will assume office in January, sharing with Rashida Tlaib the historic distinction of being the first Muslim women elected to the US Congress.
Multiple media outlets, including the Guardian, have reported that Omar lived in the vast Dadaab camp, which opened to receive civil war refugees around the same time as the Utango facility.
The report in the Guardian, describing the celebrations and prayers for Omar in Dadaab after her victory, also included interviews with residents of the camp, who said they remembered her living there almost 30 years ago.
The interviews were conducted by telephone by an experienced local journalist who is a native Somali speaker, and, while the Guardian is confident the interviewees were speaking in good faith, it is now clear these memories were erroneous.
The politician has previously spoken of her flight from Somalia, describing how militiamen prepared to attack their home in Mogadishu at midnight and had to be convinced by older female relatives to leave the family in peace.
Omar left with her family shortly after, and remembered walking through streets strewn with debris and corpses.

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