hidden europe 10

Prague's men in black

by Adam Daniel Mezei


Guest author Adam Daniel Mezei has been exploring Prague's African community for hidden europe. He recounts the captivating tale of Omojefe.

It had been a couple of weeks since I'd met Omojefe at the tail end of Prague's Václavák - or Wenceslas Square - on Rytirská street. That was on a bitterly cold late February evening. Each time I'd tried calling his mobile, I'd reached that same pre-recorded message in Czech, then in English, that "the customer you're attempting to reach is currently unavailable." Lately, it had been grating on me, the fact that his phone was constantly off.

Of all the various Africans I've met in town - of which there have been many - Omojefe, or Jefe as he prefers to be called, has one of the most captivating personal stories I've heard in a long while.

Jefe is a member of a burgeoning community of Nigerian and other West African expats - migrants from the Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon - who have made this central European capital their temporary home. They are a new kind of immigrant, deriving no advantage from the Czech state. They dip into no public purse. True, migrants like Jefe might have preferred to be in Paris or Amsterdam, but for newcomers from Africa the Czech capital is often a more accessible gateway for those dreaming of a plentiful life in Europe. Like many of his kind, Jefe has an eye on securing European residency papers. A frequent refrain I'd heard standing with Jefe on that frigid February night was how desperately he wanted to score his 'document'. An essential part of his European odyssey.

During that first conversation with Jefe, I'd taken precautions not to alarm him in any way. Even though he'd seen me several times in the past, roaming those same Prague streets and back lanes in the dead of night, he was full of suspicion. I, too, am a night person - one of the Czech capital's 'men in black'. As a freelance writer, I churn out some of my best work between the wee hours of midnight and five in the morning. Though I could well understand that Jefe might mistake me for being something or someone else. Undercover cop, perhaps?

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