Illegal in Berlin: How the dream of a better life goes awry

A book about the migration experience of a young African shows how the search for the Golden Fleece could end in disaster

Illegal in Berlin is the story of Tony, a 26-year-old university educated man, who leaves his native Nigeria, abandoning a job as an engineer with an oil company, to seek the realisation of his dream of a better life abroad. The journey to the Eldorado ends up unplanned in the machinery of Germany’s asylum system.

Sent to a refugee home in a desolate small town in the eastern part of the country, a region plagued by mass unemployment where foreigners daily face danger to their lives and limbs, Tony becomes disillusioned. He finds himself in a situation he never imagined existed in Europe, a continent that is supposed to offer only the good life.

It doesn’t take long for the young Nigerian to realise that he is trapped in a quagmire with no easy exit. Instead of waiting for the rejection of his unfounded asylum claims and risk the danger of being deported back to the country he had taken so much trouble to leave, Tony flees to the metropolis of Berlin, where he thinks he could easily disappear in the multicultural masses of Germany’s biggest city.

There he finds to his huge disappointment that with his status of asylum-seeker no longer valid, following the abandonment of his claim, he is now practically without any legal right of abode in Germany. He is ‘illegal’ and could be caught any moment and sent back home. He is back to square one!

Tony dabbles into crime to keep body and soul together and eventually meets a woman who promises to redeem his dreams at last. However the woman, the estranged wife of a Russian Mafiosi, proves to be his ultimate undoing.

Illegal in Berlin the first book of Nigerian-born Charles Ofoji, a lawyer and journalist, touches on the subject of emigration of the brightest and best among African youths who find themselves in foreign lands where their intelligence is not recognised and their humanity questioned; it is the tragedy of a youthful dream of the good life that ends in the brutal Sackgasse of European reality.

Illegal in Berlin offers the European reader an insight into the ordeal of African asylum-seekers and why their situation demands a response other than the present government policy – a more official humaneness.

Charles Ofoji has told a classic story on the condition of the recent African immigrants in Europe/ Photo: Private


For Africans, the experiences narrated in the book are going to be too similar to what many of them have gone through.

Illegal in Berlin shows how the rosy picture some Africans abroad paint to their people at home induce the latter to abandon job and family to embark on a journey to an uncertain destination, thereby putting themselves in harm’s way and sometimes destroying their very lives.

Illegal in Berlin is an indictment of the Nigerian situation that offers so little hope to the youths that they will take any risk under the sun just to escape their homeland and seek their luck elsewhere.

Ofoji has told a classic story on the condition of the recent African immigrants in Europe. Written in the racy, suspenseful style of thrillers, Illegal in Berlin is a delight to read, hard to put down until the very end.

Femi Awoniyi

Illegal in Berlin by Charles Ofoji
PublishAmerica, ISBN-10: 1413753221

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