The election to Congress of the first refugee, a Somali woman from Minneapolis has caused furor in Kenya as prominent politicians congratulated her in spite of aggressively having demanded the closure of the refugee camp she grew up in.
Ilhan Omar was the successful Democrat candidate to replace Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) who stepped down earlier this year after sexual abuse allegations which he vigorously denied, and he just won Tuesday’s Minnesota Attorney General’s race.
There’s more: Trump vehemently warned voters against supporting her, claiming that Minnesota “had suffered enough from Somali immigrants.”
Minneapolis is one of the main areas for Somali immigrants, and it has been so ever since Blackhawk Down in the early 1990s. It’s also a very progressive area, and Omar’s platform opposing current travel bans and immigration policy, as well as single-payer health care, is consistent with the electorate.
Omar’s parents were refugees from the wars in Somali. Kenya became America’s surrogate in those wars and its army was built into a modern, huge fighting force by our Defense Department.
By about a decade ago America’s war against terror in Somali — the war against al-Shabaab — wasn’t going well. The world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab, was born on the Kenyan/Somali border. It wasn’t long before there were more than a half million people living there.
Ilhan was a small girl who spent several years in Dadaab as her parents applied for asylum and finally ended up in the Minneapolis area. She came to America when she was 12 years old.
An outstanding student (and active student organizer) for the rest of her young life, she ended with post graduate studies as a fellow at the Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Later she became a state senator before launching the current campaign.
The Jubilee political party in Kenya has aggressively called for the closure of Dadaab. It’s a critical issue for Kenya. I’ve written a lot about Dadaab ever since its population exploded in 2012 after the 2011 Kenyan invasion of Somalia.
Technically the camp is supposed to cost Kenya nothing since it’s entirely administered and maintained by the United Nations. But you can see that transportation, food distribution and communications with what is essentially Kenya’s 9th largest city will obviously tax the country’s finances. Presumably America’s enormous investment in the country’s military was the trade-off that most politicians accepted.
The two main Jubilee spokesmen against keeping the camp open were “bashed on Twitter” according to a Kenyan publication today, after congratulating Omar.
As hypocritically bombastic as this seems, consider Trump’s backtrump.
According to the Washington Post, today, Trump told a Minnesota audience that “large numbers of Somali refugees [are] coming into your state without your knowledge, without your support or approval, and with some of them then joining ISIS and spreading their extremist views all over our country and all over the world.”
Omar will be one of two Somali women in the new Congress. Rashida Tlaib is especially notable for taking the seat vacated by long-serving John Conyers (Dem.) who was accused of sexual abuse.
Tlaib’s prominent support and initial motivation came from the Democratic Socialists.
There is some good news this election.