Ahmed Hussen came to Canada from Somalia as a refugee. Now he’s the country’s newest minister of immigration.
Along with thousands of compatriots, Ahmed Hussen fled war-ravaged Somalia for a better life in Canada.
Hussen’s journey took him from Mogadishu to Toronto and then on to Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, where the former Somali refugee was named this week as the country’s newest minister of immigration in a reshuffle of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet.
It was a fast political rise for the rookie politician, and will put Hussen, who arrived in Canada in 1993 as a 16-year-old teenager, in charge of the complex portfolio that oversees who is welcomed into the country.
Friends say the lawyer and social activist will be able to draw from personal experience in his new role.
Mahamad Accord, who has known Hussen for years through his work with the Canadian Somali Congress, says his friend has not forgotten his modest roots despite walking Canada’s corridors of power.
“He didn’t change,” he says. “The people around him changed.”
Accord recalls Hussen offering him help a few years back. The Somali community in the provinces of Ontario and Alberta were struggling to tackle the deaths of dozens of young Somali men due to drug and gun violence.
He says Hussen did not shy away from speaking openly about the problems plaguing the Somali community in Canada, from high rates of poverty and unemployment to gang involvement.
But Hussen was also aware of how the community could be stigmatised, and was always careful in how he spoke and presented himself. Accord says his friend would tell him “we need to change people’s perception of us”.
“He expects high standards,” he says.
Accord admits he was sometimes jealous of the lawyer and social activist’s ability to diplomatically get across a difficult message.
It was that ability that struck former Ontario politician George Smitherman when he first met Hussen in 1999. Hussen was then fighting for the interest of Regent Park, a multi-ethnic downtown neighbourhood where he had settled with one of his brothers upon his arrival in Canada.
In 2015, he told the Toronto Star that a backlog in refugee applications for permanent residency at the time meant he could not qualify for a student loan. Living in the public housing allowed him to save enough to go to university.