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Former refugee becomes New Zealand’s first African MP

An Eritrean former refugee has become New Zeland’s first African MP following Labour Party’s biggest victory in 50 years.

Ibrahim Omer is now a list MP having ranked 42 in the Labour Party list.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s party won enough seats to allow Mr Ibrahim to be in parliament.

After a night of celebrations over Labour’s biggest victory in 50 years, incoming list MP Ibrahim Omer​ spent Sunday afternoon with his friends at his favourite Wellington cafe.

Understood to be the country’s first African MP, Omer said it was a huge privilege – one he did not take for granted.

Speaking from Peoples Coffee in Newtown, Omer – who is 42 on Labour’s list – said he was looking forward to being part of an historic and diverse caucus.

With most of the votes counted, Labour looks set to win 49 per cent of the party vote, giving the party 64 seats in Parliament.

While there was still a way to go to improve representation, Omer was looking forward to helping bridge this gap.

Problems he would focus on in his new role were low-paid workers – “it’s in my heart” – racism and unequal opportunities.

Ibrahim Omer, left, will focus on the rights of low-paid workers, racism, unequal opportunities as well as tackling problems faced by members of refugee and migrant communities.
Ibrahim Omer, left, will focus on the rights of low-paid workers, racism, unequal opportunities as well as tackling problems faced by members of refugee and migrant communities.

He also wanted to focus on issues members of refugee and migrant communities may face. “I’ve always been passionate about doing things for communities.”

Omer would be bringing lived experience to his new role.

Originally from Eritrea, a country in East Africa, Omer took a gamble and fled to Sudan under a regime with a shoot-to-kill policy at the border.

If he had stayed, he could have become a child soldier or been imprisoned for refusing national service.

Newtown local Ibrahim Omer is a popular figure around the suburb. He spent his Sunday with campaign manager Rory Lenihan-Ikin (back right) and community leader Adam Awad (back left).
Newtown local Ibrahim Omer is a popular figure around the suburb. He spent his Sunday with campaign manager Rory Lenihan-Ikin (back right) and community leader Adam Awad (back left).

In Sudan, he worked as an interpreter in United Nations-run refugee camps.

After being detained on suspicion of being a spy, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stepped in, and he ended up in New Zealand.

Moving to Wellington in 2008, he worked as a cleaner.

In 2014, Omer began studying politics and international relations at the Victoria University of Wellington, where he was a cleaning supervisor. He paid for his studies by working full-time at night.

Ibrahim Omer says it is a privilege to be the country's first ever African MP.
Ibrahim Omer says it is a privilege to be the country’s first ever African MP.

A union man, Omer has worked closely with E tū and played a strong role in the Living Wage Movement. Omer was also chairman of the Change Makers Resettlement Forum board.

Omer was excited about what was to come. “Being the first ever African MP – it’s a huge privilege and comes with huge responsibilities.

“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.”

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