More than 3,400 people have signed a petition to oppose the proposed deportation of a young African musician who has become a popular figure on the Galway music scene over the past three and a half years.
Theo Ndlovu, from Zimbabwe, has been living in the controversial Direct Provision system, which the Irish Government uses to accommodate asylum-seekers since 2016 and is shocked by the prospect of being forced to return to his troubled native country.
Musicians and anti-racism activists in Galway say the timing of his proposed deportation is incredible, as Theo (23) was the key figure behind a community music project which recently received funding as part of the Galway European Capital of Culture 2020 project.
The popular spoken-word and hip-hop performer, who fled Zimbabwe in order to move to Ireland as a teenager, was served with a deportation order last week. So far, 3,450 people have signed an online petition asking the Irish Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, to reverse the decision.
Theo, also known as Touche, has become a firm favorite on the Galway live music scene thanks to his work with organizations such as the Atmos Collective (which he co-founded), the Galway Anti Racism Network (GARN), Citog Records, and Create Ireland since 2016.
He has also been a key figure in a project known as Melting Pot Luck, which allows asylum-seekers and Irish people to cook dinners for each other and eat together in order to forge links across the community in Galway, which is Ireland’s most multi-cultural city.
“So many people have rallied around him because he has given so much to the community. He has established himself here and is recognized by the community. His popularity is obvious when you see the numbers who have signed the petition,” says Avi Ratnayake of Melting Pot Luck.
“Theo is a very gifted lyricist, hip-hop artist, and wordsmith. He has a great way with kids and young people and has run wonderful workshops across the city and county. He came here at the age of 18 all by himself, running away from political and personal problems in Zimbabwe. He arrived all alone and has been in Direct Provision ever since. He puts so much energy into his performances and gets everyone up dancing.”
Ratnayake says that people in Galway were shocked when they learned that Theo, the driving force behind a major musical project for the City of Culture celebrations, may be deported from Ireland rather than see the project come to fruition.
“Like so many others in Direct Provision, there is no mental health support within that system. We were taken aback. He was shocked and speechless when he was served with the deportation order. It’s an incredible feeling, to have the rug swept from underneath his feet. There’s no fall-back for him.”
Both musician Tracy Bruen and anti-racism campaigner Silvia Trentin questioned whether it was a coincidence that there has been an increase in the number of deportations in the midst of the General Election campaign.
“When you hear about somebody that you know getting deported, it’s shocking. Theo is a big part of the Galway music scene and is known by so many people. He works with kids, teenagers, and musicians, and is very much part of the community. If he has to go to Zimbabwe, he’s afraid for his life,” said Trentin, a spokesperson for GARN.
“We believe that more people are getting deportation orders because of the General Election, while people are distracted. As far as we know, Zimbabwe is extremely unstable. Those who fight for human rights are in danger and many have had to leave.”
Ms Trentin said it was clear there was a lot of love for Theo in Galway and that many people wanted him to stay, at a time when some towns across Ireland have been organizing to prevent asylum-seekers from entering their communities.
Activists in Galway have organized an online petition, a fundraising concert, and a rally in the city center on Saturday, February 1, to raise awareness of both the Direct Provision system and the threat of deportations hanging over people like Theo who have been accommodated in the city for years.
"Many people in Direct Provision wrestle with anxiety and depression, with very little support," said Trentin. "We have a humanitarian duty to support and protect those who have had to endure this inhumane and degrading asylum system."
In an emotional Facebook post, singer Tracy Bruen asked people not to believe fear-mongering about asylum-seekers which has circulated in Ireland over the past year.
She pointed out that Theo lives in Galway West, where Independent TD Noel Grealish was accused of racism during a public meeting to oppose a Direct Provision system in the small town of Oughterard last September.
There were calls for Deputy Grealish to resign after he claimed that the majority of Africans in Ireland were economic migrants and the only “genuine refugees” were Christians fleeing ISIS terrorists in Syria.
“We are not talking about good Christian Syrian families here, we are talking about African economic migrants who are coming here to sponge off the system,” Deputy Grealish told the meeting.
Deputy Grealish is running for the Dail again in Galway West on Saturday, February 8.
“Please, please do not believe the lies you have been fed by Noel Grealish and his ilk. These people are good, honest, hardworking people who are doing their best to escape the horrors of their histories, to make a life in a town in which they wish to work, make friends, family and contribute,” said Ms Bruen.
“They are musicians, they are theatre makers, they are business people, they are volunteers, they are teachers. They are human and they are part of our community. How many of our ancestors relied on the refuge of other shores? Some in our society have a very short memory. I implore people to stand on the right side of history, to say no to deportations, and support our campaign to save Theo.”
Mr Ratnayake told IrishCentral said that a second Zimbabwean man in Galway, Mduduzi Ngwenya, was also served with a deportation order in the past 48 hours. Like Theo, he has been involved in community groups in Galway and is fearful for his life if he is forced to return home.
Ngwenya, a well-known DJ in Galway, is currently studying at NUI Galway and is the chairman of Melting Pot Luck. A campaign to oppose his deportation is also due to be launched in the coming days.
* A journalist based in Galway, Ireland, Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award. Find him on Facebook or Twitter here. Visit his website here - CiaranTierney.com.
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