American who became hate crime victim: Sofia police was not helpful

Written by on May 18, 2017 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on American who became hate crime victim: Sofia police was not helpful

On Sunday, Okon Enyenihi, who is both a Nigerian and a U.S. citizen, came to Bulgaria for a little vacation. First he visited Bucharest. Then he was going to spend four days in Sofia, in order to check out the capital and meet a friend. But on his first day, at about 7:00 p.m., he was attacked and beaten at Ruski Pametnik. Before the perpetrator could hurt him with a knife, which he pulled out of his pocket, Enyenihi ran away, with a bleeding face, which also started swelling. A Sofia taxi driver refused to take him to a clinic, but showed him the way to Pirogov Hospital. There, Enyenihi felt the medical treatment he received was insufficient, so he decided to leave Bulgaria for the U.K. the next morning.

Before heading to the airport, Okon Enyenihi brought his case, which was most likely a hate crime connected to racism, to the Bulgarian police. He does not think they were helpful at all. 

At this stage, he lives in the U.K., where he leads a project at the energy regulator. Okon Enyenihi is still suffering from an injury, a cracked bone, sustained during the attack in Sofia.

Imanuel Marcus asked him some questions.

The Sofia Globe (TSG): A few days days after you were attacked, how do you feel?

Okon Enyenihi: I went to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) unit of the Royal London Hospital on Whitechapel road on my arrival in London on Monday, directly from the airport. I saw a general practitioner and was referred to Imaging and X-ray unit. The X-ray result came back abnormal. I was further referred to undergo a head scan to confirm exactly what was wrong. I was then referred to a specialist to discuss the result. Long story short, I have a small crack in my Zygomatic bone. I am told to eat soft food and avoid sneezing because this could open up the split further. The specialist said it would take up to six months for the slit to close and heal properly. The pain and blood has subsided, but my face is still very swollen.

TSG: Why do you think you were attacked and beaten in Sofia?

Okon Enyenihi: I really don’t know. The most plausible conclusion is that it must have been some sort of hate crime. I had my smart phone out, as I was looking for directions, and my sunglasses were hanging on my T-shirt, my wallet was in my pocket. My attacker did not attempt to get those things. I did not understand what they were saying.

TSG: Do you have friends or colleagues in Sofia?

Okon Enyenihi: I have a colleague from Sofia, but she grew up in Australia and now lives in London. I also have a friend from Sofia whom I met when I lived in Berlin. I was meant to meet her on this trip, but she was away in Berlin for the weekend and was just returning back to Sofia on Monday night. I ended up not staying long enough in Sofia to see her. She was utterly shocked. So were my other friends.

Okon Enyenihi: aftter the attack in Sofia. Photo by Okon Enyenihi.

TSG: Have you become the victim of a hate crime before?

Okon Enyenihi: Never.

TSG: Before you were attacked, what kind of impressions did you have of Sofia?

Okon Enyenihi: It’s a beautiful place, including the historic places and the architecture. The few people I met, including my “AirBnB” host and the lady that led the Sofia free walking tour that I joined that Sunday morning, were very kind. I still have these impressions about Sofia and will probably soon return. I think I was just unlucky and probably let down my guard too much.

TSG: Have those impressions changed since the attack?

Okon Enyenihi: Absolutely not. I think it was a one off incident. But I do think the Bulgarian police is not too helpful. The 6th precinct needs to reeducate most, if not all, of the officers. They would not even let me come inside the police station. I stood outside for 90 minutes without a seat, until my interpreter arrived. Instead, one police officer tried to make me move away from the entrance to the police station to go sit in a bench in a nearby park. I did move away eventually because I wanted to obey all their orders hoping that will engage some sympathy in them to help me. Every police officer that came to work between 8am and 9:50am on Monday saw me standing by the door with a swollen face and cotton swabs in my nostrils. Not one person stopped to say hello or ask me what was wrong. Only one woman said hello and smiled. Perhaps it was because they new I could not speak Bulgarian and they did not speak English. But when I finally found a translator, she was kind and helped me. When she arrived, the police actively tried to dissuade me from making a report. Through the translator they were saying stuff like, “but you won’t be here, you are going back to London”, “but you don’t have a witness”, “we won’t be able to find the criminal”. I was just utterly shocked. I think I was just unlucky as I can never believe that most people are like this.

TSG: Does the attack have any consequences for you, regarding travel destinations, your security or any other aspect?

Okon Enyenihi: No major consequences I would say and hope. I am most concerned about my health and getting better. In the future, I would be just a bit more careful, perhaps not walk around alone in a place I have never visited before. Or make sure I am always in an area where there are a lot of other people and if I have to be in an area where there are not a lot of people, I would be more vigilant.

TSG: Thank you, Okon. And a speedy recovery to you.

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About the Author

Imanuel Marcus, the founder of foreignersandfriends.com, is Associate Editor of The Sofia Globe.