The Illegal Immigrant


Mustapha, a well-known television journalist from the northern Nigerian state of Bauchi arrives in the UK to pursue a dream in film-making. Circumstances soon conspire to make him an illegal immigrant. First of all, his uncle Mohammed Abdullahi the person responsible for his board and lodging, dies after a sudden heart attack a few months after Mustapha arrives. A couple of months later, the state government stops his scholarship just when he was settling down in his course in London. Mustapha is forced to decide — when his student visa runs out – whether to return to Nigeria empty handed or join the army of illegal immigrants to pursue his dream. He chooses the latter despite knowing the risks involved.

His head says go, his heart says stay. Mustapha chooses to stay and try his luck. In order to work and earn a living he has to change his identity. He was told that as from that day, the Home Office would be looking for him as an over-stayer. He adopts the name Michael Danquah and gets his first job as a kitchen porter in a college in central London.

The Illegal Immigrant looks into the trials and tribulations of Mustapha Abdullahi from the moment he arrives in the UK through to the time he voluntarily becomes an illegal immigrant until the day his film was shown, fifteen years and a few months to the day he first landed at Heathrow Airport. The story begins with Mustapha, now an illegal immigrant lying about his identity–something most illegal immigrants do to survive. He is forced to put his dream on hold and adjust to life “under the radar” when one lives but does not exist. Life lived away from the eyes of the authorities.

His problems were compounded when his landlady asks him to find a place to stay for three days because her visiting mother would not accept being in the flat with a black person. Mustapha ends up sleeping in Hyde Park for two nights. He experiences a narrow escape when Home Office officials visit the place where he works. After this close escape, he is advised to change his identity once again. Mustapha changes his name to Emmanuel Babayo and works as a security man. A group of Nigerian girls then attempt to dupe and blackmail him — either he marries one of them for a fee or they threaten to inform the Home Office of his whereabouts. Mustapha flees and temporarily stays with a Jamaican Rastafarian in Brixton who would not accept Michael as a name from an African, so he is called Kimani during his stay in Brixton.

The Illegal Immigrant is not just about the daily travails of an illegal immigrant. It is also a love story between a black African Muslim man and a white South African Christian woman. Set in London between 1990 and 2005, the novel also charts the spiritual journey of the main hero Mustapha. He arrives as a practising Muslim but with time finds it hard to observe basic Islamic rites and rituals.

No current novel deals with the theme of illegal immigration as central as this. The theme is very topical because, with the increase of Muslims immigrants in western societies, Mustapha’s experiences are not unique to African immigrants but also apply to Asians. This novel should appeal to so many people who have always wondered how illegal immigrants live and survive.

 

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