A former Eritrean refugee has won a seat in New Zealand’s parliament following the Labour Party’s biggest victory in 50 years. Ibrahim Omer becomes the country’s first African MP and the only second refugee to become a legislator.
Omer, who is now a list MP having ranked 42 in the Labour Party’s list, said he is looking forward to being part of a historic and diverse caucus. The Labour Party reportedly won over 60 seats to allow Omer to be in parliament.
“Being the first-ever African MP – it’s a huge privilege and comes with huge responsibilities,” Omer said, according to stuff.co.nz. “This is a collective victory for all of us … people have put their faith in me and I don’t take that for granted. I will work hard.”
In his new role, Omer wants to focus on working to improve representation in New Zealand. “We need a Parliament that looks like New Zealand and reflects the real New Zealand,” Omer said.
He plans to focus on low-paid workers, racism and unequal opportunities. Also, he wants to focus on issues affecting refugees and migrant communities. “I’ve always been passionate about doing things for communities,” he said.
Omer was forced to flee his home as a teenager to Sudan after refusing national service which could have landed him in jail or as a child soldier.
“There was a shoot to kill policy on the border by the regime, I had very limited options, either to be shot, or get arrested and spend years in underground or metal shipping containers, or make it safe to Sudan,” he told Amnesty International.
In Sudan, he faced the very real prospect of being deported back to Eritrea until the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) intervened and referred his case to third countries for resettlement.
“It was at this crucial moment of my life New Zealand came asking for any special cases, luckily I got accepted, that was the day that changed my life. If it wasn’t for this wonderful country I would be languishing somewhere in an underground prison in a desert,” he said.
Omer studied politics and international relations at the Victoria University of Wellington while working as a cleaning supervisor. Since becoming involved in politics at university, he has taken every opportunity to work for a better tomorrow, the Labour Party said about him.
“He has chaired the board of ChangeMakers Resettlement Forum, been involved in governance for the Living Wage Movement, and knocked on hundreds of doors and made thousands of calls as a Labour volunteer.”
According to Omer, his win is “for the low paid workers” and “former refugees”.