AMID calls for more to be done to encourage people from ethnic minority backgrounds to become councillors in Wales, last month voters in one part of Newport elected a man thought to be Wales’ first councillor from a Somali background.

Omar Ali, 46, who was elected as a Labour councillor at the by-election for the ward of Pill, was born in Manchester.

But his father, Ahmed Ali, came to Pill’s Ruperra Street in the 1960s from Somaliland, which had been part of the British Empire.

The newly elected councillor worked for a number of years at the Welsh Government-backed Communities First organisation in Pill and served on its board.

Previously he has also worked for Displaced People in Action, a voluntary sector group that helps refugees and minority communities.

His election means there are now four councillors from an ethnic minority background serving on Newport City Council.

His election came after the death of sitting councillor Ron Jones, who had served the Pill area for almost 50 years.

Cllr Ali talked to the Argus about the Somali community’s lengthy roots in South Wales.

“My father came here in 1961. His cousins were here and had invited him,” he said.

“Somalis have been in Wales for more than 100 years, on the ships and in the docks areas.”

Cllr Ali says the Somali community is “not massive” in Newport compared to the 1950s and 1960s.

Now it probably amounts to a couple of hundred people, with a larger community in Cardiff.

“The Somali population back in the 1950s and 1960s was bigger in Newport than it was then in Cardiff,” added Cllr Ali.

“It’s a complete swap-around now, because in Cardiff now its very big.”

The father-of-one said it was important for people from ethnic minority backgrounds to be involved in local government.

He said: “What it gives you is that whole civic engagement – you are part of the whole infrastructure, and more part of the society if you are involved rather than at the margins.

“A city like ours now has got a diverse population.

“It’s good for all communities to have that interaction and participation.”

Cllr Ali said being a local representative is an “honour and a privilege” and that he is there “for the whole of the community of Pill”.

“Ron Jones worked extremely hard for all people in Pill, regardless of their background,” Cllr Ali told the Argus.

“If you want to be successful in Pill we have to work hard on behalf of the citizens.”

The body that represents Welsh county councils has said that survey work shows more needs to be done to encourage people from ethnic minorities to put themselves forward as local councillors.

A survey by the Welsh Government found that 99.4 per cent of county councillors in Wales were white, while 0.6 per cent were from other ethnic minority groups.

That’s despite the fact that 2.1 per cent of Wales’ population is thought to be from a non-white background.

Meanwhile 83 per cent of elected councillors said they were Christian while two per cent said they were “other” – including Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish or Muslim, 15 per cent had no religion.

A spokesman for the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) said: “The choice to stand as a local councillor and take a leading role in local democratic life is an individual one, and represents a significant level of responsibility for anyone who chooses to put themselves forward to represent the views and interests of their community.

“A survey of local government candidates published earlier this year, together with previous analysis from the WLGA, does show that there is still work to do when it comes to encouraging a greater diversity of people to put themselves forward to stand as local councillors.

“Much is already being done to achieve this, as councils undertake a range of promotional and awareness raising activity at a local level, and are also increasingly exploring how technology and new working practices can help overcome some of the traditional barriers that have previously limited people’s ability to fulfil these demanding public roles.

“This issue is also being considered by an expert group which has been convened by the minister for local government, Lesley Griffiths AM, with the aim of exploring what can be done to achieve greater diversity within local government.”