Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar said that her arrival in Minnesota exposed her to more gun violence than living in an east African refugee camp did.
Speaking at the Gun Violence Community Conversation at North High in Minneapolis on Thursday, Omar said: ‘For six years, I had the privilege of not seeing any violence, until I moved to Minnesota.’
Omar continued: ‘My first year in Minnesota I both saw a person shot at Peavey Park, dead on the floor, three weeks after my father and I arrived in Minneapolis. Six months later I watched the Minneapolis police put 38 bullets into the body of a mentally disabled Somali immigrant who didn’t speak English.’
At the age of eight, Omar and her family fled the civil war in her native Somalia and lived for four years in the Dadaab refugee camp, close to the Kenya-Somali border.
She was granted asylum the US and arrived in New York City in 1995 when she was 12. Her family later settled in the Twin Cities two years later.
Omar described growing up in Somalia and seeing children that she went to school with carrying assault rifles as the civil war began.
The congresswoman went on: ‘I know what that kind of violence looks like but I was fortunate enough to flee that and seek refuge in a refugee camp for four years where I did not witness that kind of violence.’
The second shooting that Omar referenced was the death of Abu Kassim Jeilani in 2002. Jeilani, 28, was carrying a machete when he was shot dead.
Witnesses said at the time that Jeilani was constantly shouting ‘Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar,’ meaning ‘God is great,’ while ignoring police requests to drop the knife.
The six officers involved in the shooting were absolved of any wrongdoing in the shooting by a grand jury three months after the incident.
Tents are seen at the UNHCR’s Ifo Extension camp outside Dadaab, eastern Kenya, 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Somali border
At the age of 8, Omar and her family fled the civil war in her native Somalia and lived for four years in the Dabaab refugee camp, close to the Kenya-Somali border
According the United Nations Refugee Agency, there are 218,000 refugees currently housed at the Dadaab complex, making it one of the largest in the world. The camp offers basic housing, food, healthcare and education to inhabitants.
Following her election to the US House of Representatives in 2016, multiple news outlets reported that she was heralded as hero and inspiration to the people still living in Dadaab. In one report, she was referred to as a ‘daughter of Dadaab.’
In her victory speech in 2016, Omar said in part: ‘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.’
In 2011, Omar went on a humanitarian trip to Dadaab. While there, she told Democracy Now that she met people she grew up with in the camp who still live there as adults.
During that same interview, Omar described life growing up in the refugee camp as ‘not an easy one.’ She said that in her youth ‘malaria was devastating the camp and taking lives.’
In 2011, Omar went on a humanitarian trip to Dadaab, she described in an interview meeting people who she grew up with who were still living there as adults
Four-year-old Bashir Hassan hangs his head on his hands on July 6, 2011 as he and other members of his family wait behind a fence in the hope to be allowed to board a bus that transports newly arrived Somali refugees to a facility where they are officially registered as refugees which entitles them to receive food rations on a regular basis in the Dadaab refugee camp
Somali boys fetching water from a puddle that formed after rain at the IFO-2 complex of the sprawling Dadaab refugee complex
Among those who died of malaria was Omar’s aunt Fos who was pregnant at the time. Fos served as a surrogate mother to Omar following the death of her own mother years previously.
Omar said in a separate interview with Elle Magazine in 2020 that life in the refugee camp was ‘hostile’ and ‘survival of the fittest.’ She said that she had to fight others just to get drinking water.
While in the documentary, ‘Time for Ilhan,’ Omar said of the refugee camp: ‘It was the first time I understood what hunger would feel like, what death looked like.’
According to a 2021 feature on Dadaab by the International Policy Digest, the Kenyan government has been exploring the idea of shutting down the camp since 2019 due widespread crime including rape, illegal firearms trading and violent crime.
Rep. Omar has been referred to as a ‘daughter of Dadaab’ following her ascent to the US House of Representatives
At the same town hall, Omar made reference to the recent overturning of Roe v Wade saying: ‘Thankfully, in Minnesota, abortion remains legal’
The city of Minneapolis is on pace to surpass last year’s homicide numbers with 45 recorded this year already. In 2021, there were 97.
Early in the town hall, Omar made reference to the overturning of Roe v Wade by the Supreme Court saying: ‘We know this decision will fall the hardest on the most vulnerable, such as women who have been abused, who are victims of incest, have been raped, those who are already struggling to put food on the table.’
She added: ‘Thankfully, in Minnesota, abortion remains legal.’