The stark facts of coming to the UK as a refugee are these: it’s inhumane, expensive and nobody would do it unless they absolutely had to.
From an idyllic, middle class childhood in Nigeria, poet Inua Ellams had to flee religious persecution with his family at the age of 12. Luckily, his father had an offer of work in London, liaising between the BBC and Nigeria’s national broadcaster. Unluckily, their lawyer sold their identities, ‘lost’ all their paperwork, and suggested they move to Dublin while claiming asylum in the UK as refugees, before packing up shop and disappearing.
Ellams’ storytelling is deceptively warm and inviting, lingering over his youth in Nigeria before diving into the legal morass his family suddenly found themselves wading through. His poems are interwoven throughout, employing occasionally startling imagery as well as a defining sweetness and humanity. A teenage basketball team, so shocked and embarrassed by racial slurs shouted at Ellams at a Dublin game that they don’t know what to say to him, solving their silence by setting the ball on fire and shooting hoops with burning hands in the now-empty court, is an image both exciting and extraordinary.
There are some pacing issues, with probably too long spent on the period before Ellams became an immigrant, although there are some delightful moments here as well. The meat of the story comes later, and fascinates throughout. It’s well worth hearing this fascinating perspective on a struggle that is unfortunately all too common in our country.
Words: Caroline Whitham
Picture: Oliver Holms
An Evening with an Immigrant, Traverse, Aug 22-25, 11pm