The long journey to freedom

August 4, 2023 BY

Walk the talk: Neil Para said his family has been living in limbo for more than a decade, so he’s stepping out to make some noise. Photo: MICHAEL CHAMBERS

AFTER eleven years of living in Australia without a permanent visa, employment, or access to the Medicare system, a Sri Lankan refugee and asylum seeker based in regional Victoria is beginning a new journey.

Neil Para set off on a “walk for freedom” on Tuesday, and is travelling on foot from Ballarat to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s electoral office in Marrickville, Sydney.

His aim is to promote the experience of asylum seekers in this country who can’t legally earn money, and he plans to complete his fourth day of walking in Heathcote today, Friday 4 August, heading towards Graytown tomorrow.

“I’m calling on the government to end the uncertainty for all the waiting refugees,” he said. “Please grant us permanent visas and the right to work.

“I am walking so that refugee children such as my children can have certainty.”

The walk began outside the office of Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government and Member for Ballarat, Catherine King, and Mr Para expects to deliver a petition when he arrives in Sydney in September, before attending a rally.

“I fled war and persecution in Sri Lanka and arrived in Australia in 2012,” he said.

“Hundreds of asylum seekers like me from different parts of the world were seeking safety in Australia.

“Instead, we experienced years of detention in offshore and onshore detention centres that almost broke our spirit, but we are resilient, and we carry the hope that we’ll call Australia home one day.”

Mr Para does not want to return to Sri Lanka due to safety concerns, however he was not one of the 19,000 refugees granted a Resolution of Status visa in February.

He was a hairdresser in Sri Lanka and said he and his wife Sugaa have a desire to work, as a police officer and aged care worker respectively.

Alongside their daughters, Nivash, Kartie, and Nive, the couple are embedded in the Ballarat community, which they consider home.

They receive financial support from the community, friends, family, and the local branch of Rural Australians for Refugees to live.

The family gives time to various charities, and have volunteered with the SES, Ballarat Health Services, and tourist information centre. Mr Para is also the man behind the newly established Union of Australian Refugees.

“The ADF Navy took us to Christmas Island, a refuge from the turmoil we were escaping,” Mr Para said. “Today, I stand with refugees as part of the union.”

Mr Para’s daughter Nive was born in Australia, is a citizen, and has a Medicare card, but she doesn’t have the same rights as other Australian children.

“We are tired of living in limbo for more than a decade,” he said. “We have spent years in detention, the harshest time of our lives, but it doesn’t end.

“We cannot return to a country where we don’t feel safe and we don’t feel at home. We yearn to contribute to the society we now call home.”

Visit change.org/endtheuncertainty for more information on the petition.