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Ilhan Omar: Somali-American former refugee gives emotional victory speech after winning US congress Democratic primary

'In my last race, I talked about what my win would have meant for that eight-year-old girl in that refugee camp,' she tells crowd

Maya Oppenheim
Wednesday 15 August 2018 11:51 BST
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Former refugee Ilhan Omar becomes the first Somali-American state legislator to win US House primary

A Somali-American former refugee has delivered an emotionally charged victory speech after winning a Democratic primary.

Ilhan Omar, who is likely to become the first Somali-American elected to US Congress, made history on Tuesday by winning a seat in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District.

The politician garnered national attention just two years ago after becoming the first Somali American elected to a state legislature in Minnesota - unseating a 22-term Democratic incumbent.

"In my last race, I talked about what my win would have meant for that eight-year-old girl in that refugee camp,” she told a crowd of supporters after her win.

“And today, today, I still think about her and I think about the kind of hope and optimism all of those eight-year-olds around the country and around the world get from seeing your beautiful faces elect and believe in someone like me."

“So I humbly thank you. I congratulate you and I ask you, lets continue to celebrate and bring our joy and hope to the campaign trail tomorrow.”

Ms Omar’s family fled Somalia when she was just eight years old as civil war ripped apart the country. They spent four years in a camp in Mombasa, Kenya, with tens of thousands of other refugees.

The 36-year-old, who is the youngest of seven children, and her family emigrated to America when she was 12 years old. They settled in Minneapolis where she learnt English by watching American TV.

(AFP/Getty (AFP/Getty)

The mother-of-three also referenced her eight-year-old self when becoming the first Somali-American lawmaker in the US in 2016.

"This really was a victory for that eight-year-old in that refugee camp," she said. "This was a victory for the young woman being forced into child marriage. This was a victory for every person that's been told they have limits on their dreams."

Minnesota is home to the biggest population of Somalis outside Somalia and Minneapolis has a neighbourhood nicknamed “Little Mogadishu.”

Ms Omar won in Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs – a famously left-leaning district. Her primary victory is expected to lead to a win in the November midterm elections and take her to Congress. She will face Republican candidate Jennifer Zeilinski at the election.

(Getty Images (Getty Images)

"Tonight, we are celebrating because we engaged and empowered our community and we won," Ms Omar said in a statement.

"Our campaign staff, our volunteers, and the people of the Fifth Congressional District are the inspiration we need to get up every day and fight for a democracy that guarantees a more just and equitable society."

Ms Omar and Rashida Tlaib - a Palestinian American who won a Detroit-area Democratic primary in Michigan last week and is running unopposed in November - are now in the position to become the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress.

"I can't wait to walk onto the floor of United States Congress hand in hand with you. So incredibly proud of you.” Ms Tlaib tweeted.

A record number of Muslims - at least 90 – have run for political office in the 2018 midterm elections.

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