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Refugees' contributions strengthen Minnesota

State honors 22 individuals with Outstanding Refugee Awards


Refugees bolster Minnesota’s communities economically and socially, and this month, several Minnesotans who arrived with refugee status will receive some much-deserved recognition for their contributions.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services recognized 22 individuals – 10 from 2020 and 12 from 2021 – at the Outstanding Refugee Awards on July 19 in ceremonies at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.

2021 Outstanding Refugee Award recipients

• For the Civic Engagement Award, which recognizes individuals who make their communities stronger through civic participation:

o Michael Yang of St. Paul, Southeast Asian community specialist for City of Minneapolis Neighborhood and Community Relations

o Mamady Konneh of Golden Valley, CEO for We Network Now

o Fatima Molas of Columbia Heights, chairperson of Multicultural Autism Action Network

o Mohamed Abdulkadir of St. Peter, refugee training specialist at MRCI

o Maylary Apolo of Austin, legal assistant at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota

o Armin Budimlic of Rochester, executive director for the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association

o Kahin Adam of St. Cloud, psychotherapist and community health specialist for CentraCare.

• For the Entrepreneurship Award, which recognizes individuals who contribute to their communities in business, the arts or education:

o Salman Elmi of Blaine, president and founder of Tavolo and Top Figure

o Ayan Abukar of Bloomington, executive director for Action for East African People.

• For the Young Leader Award, which recognizes young people who have achieved great milestones and are making a difference in their communities

o Nasra Farah of Waite Park, speaker, writer and board member for Unite Cloud.

• For the New Beginnings Award, which recognizes individuals who have been in the United States for two years or fewer, and exemplifies the resilience and courage it takes to rebuild their well-being and make Minnesota their home:

o Cani Adan of Moorhead, program manager for the Afro American Development Association

o Abdikarim Hassen of Rochester, volunteer for Family Service Rochester.

Because the department was unable to host an in-person ceremony due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, department leaders recognized the 2020 Outstanding Refugee Award recipients during this year’s ceremony.

“Few of us can relate to the experiences refugees have gone through but we can certainly recognize and, in the case of these awards, honor those who have persevered and made a better life not only for themselves but enriched Minnesota with their ideas, talents and work ethic,” said Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead.

Preceding the ceremonies, the department sponsored a virtual symposium highlighting the state of resettlement in Minnesota.

Now in its fifth year, the annual Outstanding Refugee Awards celebrate the courage, resilience and entrepreneurship of refugees, and their contributions to Minnesota.

The department uses federal funds to help refugees succeed in school, secure employment, become U.S. citizens, learn about their new communities and connect to community resources. In 2020, Minnesota welcomed 291 people with refugee status primarily from Burma, Somalia and Ukraine. Between January and May 2021, Minnesota welcomed 40 refugees.

For more information about refugee services, visit the department’s resettlement webpage at To learn about previous recipients of Outstanding Refugee Awards, visit the department’s Outstanding Refugees webpage at


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