Bernard Kudakwashe Matanire slept through his alarm on the morning of his visit to Áras an Uachtaráin. He was so late for the bus to Dublin he didn't have time to figure out what he should wear for the meeting with President Michael D Higgins.
“Everything was so unprepared. I went to take a shower and just grabbed my clothes. But then, as I left my room, I noticed in the mirror that my outfit actually looked really good. It was proper and I felt good about that.”
Matanire, from Zimbabwe, was one of the group of young men and women living in direct provision who were invited to the Áras in late February as part of a sail- training programme they took part in last summer.
Even though Matanire spent the first three days on board the boat getting sick, he pushed himself to complete the week's sailing on the Spirit of Oysterhaven off the coast of Cork.
He never expected that his perseverance in overcoming severe sea-sickness would result in a trip to Phoenix Park to meet the President.
“It was funny because there was this moment when I thought, Wow, this is real. I’d been in Ireland only a few months and already I’d met the President.”
Matanire has lived in direct provision since he arrived in Ireland in April 2014. His parents decided he needed to leave his home in Harare, Zimbabwe, when police authorities kept turning up at the family home asking questions.
“I had a problem with the authorities; that’s why I left,” he says. “It was because my father used to be in the presidential guard but he deserted them in 2002. The authorities used to come to us and ask us where he was in Zimbabwe. At that time I was still young, I was underage. But as soon as I turned 18 it became a problem.”
His parents had already left Zimbabwe and were living in England when he decided to leave in 2014. He initially moved to South Africa, where he had applied to study IT at university. However, when he discovered one of his peers at the university was the son of a member of the police authorities in Harare, he began to investigate how to get to Europe.
He was unable to get a visa for England, so his uncle paid a friend to gather the necessary papers for him to travel to Ireland. “He told me, ‘You can go to Ireland, which is close to England.’ He said it would be easy for me to see my family from here, so I should seek asylum in Ireland.”
It was pitch dark outside the evening his flight touched down in Cork Airport. He declared himself to gardaí at the airport's passport control and was taken to a direct provision centre near Kinsale, Co Cork. The following day he was given a bus ticket to Dublin and told to declare himself in the immigration office there.
“I arrived in Dublin at 3pm but the immigration office closes at, like, 4.30pm. I went to the Garda station and they gave me a map, ticked where I was, and ticked where I needed to go.”
Matanire reached the immigration office just as staff were closing up for the day. When he explained he was seeking asylum, they called a taxi to take him to the Balseskin reception centre in Finglas, where he spent the next three months.
The following day he called his mother. “She didn’t even know I was in Ireland. When I called her to tell her I was here, she thought I was either lying or joking.”
His mother, who has a British passport, jumped on a flight the next day to see her son. She now visits him every few months.
Following that stay at the Balseskin centre, Matanire was sent back to Cork, where he waited for his interview for refugee status.
He quickly settled into life at the direct provision centre in Cork and made friends with a couple of men his own age. He also began studying graphic design at St John’s Central College in Cork with the help and guidance of the Irish Immigrant Support Centre.
“I said ‘I want to go to college and do something’, so they told me to check what kind of courses I wanted. I can now use Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign and Photoshop to make business cards, album cover, CD covers . . . stuff like that.”
Matanire’s initial application for refugee status was denied, so he is now waiting for a response to his appeal. “When I received that letter, it was not a good feeling. You start thinking, why did this happen and why is it happening to me?”
“You can’t come back 100 per cent after that. You end up looking for things that will distract you from thinking about the rejection. For me that was hanging around with friends, making music, rapping, going to college and doing the sailing course.”
Matanire often feels fed up after two years of waiting for an answer. “Right now I can’t work and I can’t go to a proper university to do a full-time course. I have been offered a lot of opportunities here but because I don’t have status, I end up turning things down.”
He looks forward to the day when he can fly to England to visit his parents and two brothers, although he plans to continuing living in Ireland.
He has built a close circle of friends at the direct provision centre where he lives, but says it is easy for people “to go crazy in there. Some of the people there end up not being friendly at all, and it’s easy for people to fight. Some people have to stay six to eight years, so they’re not interested in friendship. “For now all I can do is keep busy until I hear about my status.”
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