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Olayinka Shitu Can Stay in Berlin!

The refugee from Nigeria became known to the public as a dancer in the film RHYTHM IS IT! He is fully orphaned, and the senator for home affairs is to grant him a residence permit for two more years.

Olayinka Shitu in Berlin

The white smile on the black face cannot be seen over the phone but can be heard: “I can stay? That’s really nice:” Olayinka Shitu, born in Nigeria and the sole member of his family to survive the civil war, has been a Berlin-resident for the last four years and is not to be extradited after all. As reported, the 19 year old orphan was at risk of being extradited at the end of 2006, when his permit was due to run out, but his lawyer then got a letter from the office for home affairs, saying that for urgent personal and humanitarian reasons Senator Ehrhart Körting is to award him a permit for two years.

According to the authorities, the decision had been taken before the media had focussed on the case. The fate of the young gentleman has been widely known since his success as a solo dancer in the sympathetic documentary film ‘Rhythm is it!’, made soon after he had fled to Berlin at the age of 15. Produced by the Berlin firm Boomtown Media and accompanied an educational project supported by the German Bank, the film featured 250 youngsters dancing to music written by Igor Stravinsky and performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Simon Rattle. At the time, Olayinka Shitu quietly expressed his disappointment at the whites, saying: “I had thought they could all speak English.” He himself had yet to learn German.

The award-winning film, which is still running in many European lands and even in Japan, has changed him. He was one of the few youngsters with little anxiety about classical music and who took the training seriously from the start and went for it regularly to the ‘Faster than Light Dance Company’. At the central celebration of German unification, he swished in a snow-white costume over a stage in Potsdam in front of representatives of the federal government. He is taking part in the second Philharmonic project and wishes to apply for the next.

Olayinka Shitu sought and found friends abroad as well as support from the church. He spent his first months in Germany in a shared flat but has since been living independently. After working his way through a special class at secondary school and taking private lessons, he has now passed his intermediate examination. In German he got only a fourth grade “but otherwise I have many threes and twos, and in maths even a one.” So far he has not been able to earn money by working, since he still has only a temporary permit. “But I hope to be able to continue my education. I would like to study informatics.”

Yesterday Shitu met friends at Boomtown Media. Together with the directors Thomas Grube and Enrique Sanchez Lansch, they had begun to collect signatures for a petition, and in celebration Olayinka is now listening to records of classical music. “I love Mozart.” 

Annette Kögel
(Tagesspiegel, Berlin)


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