A former Somali refugee has been appointed Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Ahmed Hussen, who arrived in Canada as a refugee at the age of 16, is also the first Somali-Canadian to hold a seat in Parliament. His election in 2015 made news headlines across the world. Since his election, Hussen has become a household name among Somalis in the Diaspora.
Hussen, 40, arrived in Canada after fleeing his hometown, the Somali capital of Mogadishu, in 1993 and settled in Toronto’s Regent Park community.
While he is proud of his Somali heritage, he hopes to be more than the token Somali in the Liberal cabinet.
Just hours after formally assuming his new post, Hussen – who has been a lawyer, human rights advocate and community activist – said the trajectory of his life would affect how he approaches the job, just like it would for anyone else.
“I am extremely proud of our country’s history as a place of asylum, a place that opens its doors and hearts to new immigrants and refugees, and I’m especially proud today to be the minister in charge of that file,” Hussen told reporters outside the House of Commons after he was sworn in last week Tuesday [10 January].
Canada accepted a total of 300,000 immigrants in 2016, the same quota set for this year.
“As members of Parliament and members of the cabinet, each of us coming into public life are informed … by their different experiences that they bring to the table. And I’m no different in that sense. I’ll bring my experience as an immigrant to Canada, but also an immigration lawyer, someone who worked many, many years before running for office as a community activist, a community organizer and a community advocate,” he said.
Hussen is well aware of the challenges refugees face when they land in Canada. As a young refugee waiting for papers, a backlog in applications meant that Hussen couldn’t get a student loan to attend university. Later on, after graduating and working in local politics, he took his activism to help secure a multi-million dollar housing revitalization plan for the community in the Regent Park neighborhood in Toronto where he lived.
Hussen has also served on the board of the Global Enrichment Foundation, which helps women in East Africa go to university and colleges in the region.
Hussen, a father of three boys, is fluent in English, Somali and Swahili.
Austin Ohaegbu with agency reports