How a Cameroonian refugee became University professor in Nigeria. And why this is not the end of the journey to integration.
The armed conflict between secessionist forces and the Cameroonian army had broken out. “If you were picked up, it was very difficult to get released again”, Professor Shu recalls.
After a few months in his home country, he felt he had to leave it behind. Together with the children who could not attend school anymore and his mother-in-law, he fled back to Nigeria.
While he was settling back in, he still had to deal with the troubles back home. “When the crisis erupted, I told the people to quickly deck the house that I was building”, he says. “When someone broke into the house and carried away everything, I said: ‘Let them carry it away.’” Worried about the house as such, Elvis Shu instructed his contacts back home to put a new door. “Others came and broke in again”, he recalls, “so I asked my people to replace the door and leave it unlocked so that whoever wants to walk inside, can go inside.”
Restarting life in Nigeria’s Enugu State had its own challenges. “Getting a house in Enugu City was a very big problem”, Elvis Shu says. “They couldn’t give one to me in the beginning” despite him being an employee of the University’s College of Medicine, “while they gave houses to others.” For his students who appreciate his sense of humour, this difference does not exist. They are not aware that he is a refugee. “I am more or less like a Nigerian”, Professor Shu smiles. And after a pause, he adds: “You cannot be completely accepted, because you are not from here.”
In the meantime, Elvis Shu has become a leader in the Cameroonian diaspora in Enugu City. He is well connected and helps his compatriots receive important information, for instance if UNHCR comes to town for registering the unregistered refugees. “Registration gives them a legal identity and a document so that they are not harassed when they move around”, explains Juliet Ahanonu, UNHCR’s Ogoja-based Registration Associate, who led the registration campaign. “The refugee ID gives them the right to move around Nigeria freely which can help them to eventually find work.”
“The most pressing issue”, confirms community leader Elvis Shu, “is feeding their families and how to fit themselves into the Nigerian economy.” Although he has resolved both for himself and his family, at the age of 62, he thinks he should be in his country. “I would love to go back,” he says, “but it does not look promising.”