By Abdi Latif Dahir
During his cabinet reshuffle on Jan. 10, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tapped a former Somali refugee to lead the country’s immigration, refugees, and citizenship ministry. Ahmed Hussen, a lawyer, and community activist came to Canada in 1993 at the age of 16 after fleeing his hometown, the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
Hussen, a rookie MP for York-South Weston district in Ontario, was also the first Somali-Canadian to be voted to parliament in 2015. Since his election, Hussen has become a household name among Somalis in the diaspora. His election has been touted as a symbol of the Canadian Liberal Party’s openness to immigrant communities.
“The story of Canada is the story of immigration, and I’m especially proud and humbled that the prime minister would task me with this important role,” Hussen said, following the announcement of his appointment. Canada accepted a total of 300,000 immigrants in 2016, the same quota set for this year.
Hussen will take over the ministry from John McCallum, a veteran Liberal MP who is moving to be the country’s ambassador to China. Under McCallum’s leadership, Canada took in nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees.
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.