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Refugees to representatives: Golriz Ghahraman and Ilhan Omar meet in US

Author
Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Section
Politics,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 10 September 2019, 9:00PM
Green MP Golriz Ghahraman and US representative Ilhan Omar during their meeting in Washington DC. (Photo / Golriz Ghahraman)
Green MP Golriz Ghahraman and US representative Ilhan Omar during their meeting in Washington DC. (Photo / Golriz Ghahraman)

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman is in the US and has met one of her heroes, Ilhan Omar, who is also a former refugee elected to her country's House of Representatives.

They discussed racism, US President Donald Trump, and the March 15 terrorist attack as well as how they have followed each other's political rise with admiration from afar.

Omar was born in Somalia and spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp before securing asylum in the US.

Last year she was elected to the US House of Representatives, becoming one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress and the first non-white woman elected from Minnesota.

She was one of four non-white Congresswomen targeted by Trump in July, when he told them to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came".

Ghahraman's story parallels Omar's, who grew up in Iran before becoming a refugee and successfully claiming political asylum in New Zealand.

Earlier today, Ghahraman tweeted her excitement at meeting Omar in Washington DC: "I get to hang out with one of my all time favourite political leaders today. Defining quote: 'They cannot stand that: a refugee; a Black woman; an immigrant; a Muslim; shows up in Congress thinking she's equal to them. But I say to them. How else did you expect me to show up?'"

A few hours later, she bonded with Omar about being targeted by racism.

In Twitter comments, Ghahraman added: "We were mostly laughing at the horrific sh*t we have to endure, talking about each other's posts we loved, and of course organising our movements!"

Ghahraman told the Herald she and Omar had been inspired by each other's political careers.

"I ran for Parliament the year she got into the state legislature in 2016, and I remember everybody talking about how extraordinary it was that Trump won and I was kind of like, 'Well, it's a long-set trend, rich, white, establishment guy, kinda racist'.

"To me [Omar's election] was the extraordinary thing that happened. I spoke to her about what it meant for me to see her get elected and what an encouragement that was for me to run."

Within a year, Ghahraman was an MP, and the following year Omar was elected to Congress.

Ghahraman said Omar had told her how meaningful it had been to watch Ghahraman calling out the US over children being detained at the US border.

They bonded over the racist treatment they had been subjected to, having both been given a security escort at different times, as well as how absurd it was to be called terrorists and be accused of wanting to implement Sharia law.

They also talked about the March 15 terrorist attack and how New Zealand responded, and how that contrasts with the political response to mass shootings in the US.

Omar told Ghahraman she was grateful to be among a group of women who could stand together in the aftermath of Trump's comments in July; Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib were also targeted by Trump.

But Omar also raised concerns with how New Zealand prioritises Asia-Pacific immigrants over refugees from Africa and the Middle East.

Ghahraman is on a self-funded trip to the US where she is meeting people and organisations related to her portfolios.

She has been in New York meeting with the New Zealand UN delegation, the UN Special Rapporteur on Poverty, and is meeting Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, the first two native American Congresswomen, in coming days.

 

ON AIR: Heather du Plessis-Allan Drive

4PM - 7PM