Lesley Mkoko (51) is a mature student in his second year studying sociology at University College Dublin through the University of Sanctuary scheme.

He is also living in a direct provision room in Waterford city.

Mr Mkoko, who fled Swaziland three years ago and used to work as a chemical engineer, shares a former hotel room with two other people, and says the conditions in the centre make life very difficult.

He says this is holding back residents who want to make a better life for themselves in Ireland.

Mr Mkoko said he wanted third-level education to escape the boredom of being in the centre all day, and to try to improve his life, but he says it can be challenging, particularly during the Christmas holidays.

“Being in jail is better than being here in direct provision. With jail, you know how long you are being sent away for but here – you have no idea.

“You are in limbo and don’t know how long it will last. Your life is brought to a standstill until someone can decide that your life can go on.

“It would be difficult to explain to outsiders what is it like. You can have several people in a room that was not designed to house several people.

“People coming to live in direct provision may have mental health issues, they may be traumatised, they may come from very different cultures and then you throw them all in the same place and mix that in with the boredom – it is a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Mr Mkoko says he is looking forward to returning to UCD after the Christmas break, even though that comes with its own challenges.

“My day starts at around four in the morning, as I have to get to the bus in Waterford, and it finishes at 10 at night because I have to travel three hours back to UCD. I get to class after several hours’ travel and am very tired but the course demands that I have to apply myself and be 100pc.

“It is difficult – students around the country have to commute, but living in a direct provision centre is an extra barrier.

“I am very much affected, but I would rather study and go through this than sit in direct provision for hours on end doing nothing and going out of my mind as so many of our brothers and sisters have,” he said.

“After graduation I hope I will get my residency and be able to put my degree to good use.”

Mr Mkoko is critical of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for saying direct provision is “an imperfect system but not an inhumane one”.

“He does not know what it is like to feel so out of control or what people go through here, being in the system for years on end,” he said.

“It is bad. It is not good.”

A cross-party Oireachtas committee report on direct provision published a month ago said the system needed “root-and-branch reform” or replacement.

However, the ongoing housing crisis means some people who have been granted asylum have remained in the direct provision system.

Irish Independent

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