Riding on Labour’s biggest victory in 50 years, Ibrahim Omer has become the first elected member of New Zealand’s parliament of African origin. The Eritrean-born new MP tweeted on Sunday after his historic victory, at which his party won almost half of the votes, had become clear:
“This is a win for the low paid workers. It is a win for former refugees. It is a win for all the people of this country who deserve a decent life.
“To our communities who have waited a long time, this is for all of us. I am not special, I am just one of you who happens to be in this position.”
The 2020 New Zealand general election was held on Saturday, 17 October 2020 to determine the composition of the 53rd parliament. Voters elected 120 members to the House of Representatives, 72 from single-member electorates and 48 from closed party lists. Omer was elected through the Labour party list.
Omer moved to New Zealand in 2008 from Sudan, where he lived for several years after fleeing his homeland. He had earlier fled Eritrea in 2003 because he didn’t want to become a child soldier or imprisoned for refusing national service, he says. In Sudan, he worked as an interpreter in United Nations-run refugee camps and moved to his new homeland under a UN-resettlement programme.
Omer’s story is that of the proverbial grass to grace as he first worked as a cleaner when he arrived in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, in 2008.
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.
A member of the hugely popular Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s ruling party, Omer entered politics as a campaign helper for Grant Robertson, Wellington Central MP, who inspired the Eritrean to join politics. The rest as they say is history.
“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,” Omer said.
Ibrahim Omer has said that he would focus on the rights of low-paid workers, racism, unequal opportunities as well as tackling problems faced by members of refugee and migrant communities.