‘I will be able to live my life’
2017-06-29 11:22:56 -
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By Austin Anderson

Lesley Mkoko lived his life in fear. His home country of Swaziland is one of the last remaining absolute monarchies in the world. The government has one ruler, King Mswati III, with supreme authority that cannot be restricted by any written laws, legislature or customs.

Mkoko wanted to leave his homeland, a country with a life expectancy of only 51 years, the fourth lowest in the world. Mkoko felt he had to escape a country that has more than one in six of its citizens living with HIV, the world’s highest rate. He knew he had to get out from under the fear the regime instilled.

But if Lesley Mkoko knew what was waiting for him in Ireland, he never would have left Swaziland.

Currently, immigrants seeking asylum in Ireland are housed within the direct provision system. They are given room and board, but conditions are often cramped and subject to many restrictions, which includes a ban on employment until granted refugee status. There is no fixed timetable for determining applications, with many remaining in the system for years.

“We are expected to live on €19 a week which is virtually impossible for a human being,” says Mkoko, who left Swaziland 11 months ago to seek asylum in Ireland and now lives in a direct provision centre. “We eat food we don’t know, prepared by people we don’t know at an exact time. If we miss that time then we don’t get the food.”

One glimmer of hope, however, is the unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court in May that the absolute ban on allowing asylum seekers to work was “in principle” unconstitutional.

“All excitement, all happiness,” Mkoko says of his reaction to the ruling. “It gave me belief [that] the justice system for the county is good and qualified.”

Excitement and happiness are feelings Mkoko hasn’t felt since arriving in Ireland. The current conditions, which remain for at least the next six months while the legislature considers how to address the ruling, have been mentally crippling on his fellow asylum seekers, he says.

“We have been turned into robots,” says Mkoko. “We are basically remote controlled.”

Over the last 11 months, Mkoko has been waiting and hoping for a decision that would allow him to resume his career as a chemical engineer. His experience working in Swaziland for Shell, among other companies, leaves him in no doubt as to what he can contribute to Irish society.

But the same can’t be said for all asylum seekers, says Mkoko - not because of their skill sets, but rather their mental health resulting from their living conditions.

“This system has destroyed a lot of lives,” he says, though he adds that if the Supreme Court ruling does prompt a change in the law, it would go a long way towards helping him and his fellow asylum seekers reclaim their lives.

“If the conditions are right to work, my life will change dramatically, a 180 degree turn,” he says. “I will be able to live my life.”
TAGS : Asylum seekers Ireland Lesley Mkoko
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