August 3rd, 2023Long walk to leave limbo
Words: Eve Lamb. Image: Supplied
Keep an eye out and you may just spot him hiking along the chilly, muddy Hepburn Shire roads this week.
While many of us stay rugged up indoors, much loved Ballarat-based Tamil refugee, Neil Para, 44, is this week walking through Hepburn Shire as part of his far bigger 1000 km trek all the way from Ballarat to Sydney.
Neil (pictured above) who with his family arrived by boat in Australian waters in August 2012, has set himself a target of covering 30 kilometres a day as he highlights the plight of refugees who have been left in limbo after their bridging visas were removed with no assurance of residential permanency anywhere sight.
Starting at 8am from federal minister Catherine King’s office in Ballarat this Tuesday, August 1, Neil aims to reach Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s office in Sydney within a month.
There, he will intend to present a petition bearing 11,000 signatures and calling for “fairness for refugees who’ve lived here in Australia for more than a decade”.
Supporting him logistically will be groups like Ballarat Rural Australians for Refugees and others in the network.
Neil says the idea for the long walk came to him as he reflected on the response to a four-day sit-in protest that took place at Parliament House in Canberra in March.
“I feel we were seen, but we were not heard,” says Neil who lives with his wife, Sugaa, and their three young daughters in Ballarat.
“Every single politician – they were passing by – but they didn’t come and talk to us.”
Neil says that reaction has prompted him to launch the Union of Australian Refugees group and to tackle the walking challenge to draw attention to the plight of his family and those on bridging visas.
Before settling in Ballarat in September 2013, the Para family had spent months in offshore and onshore detention facilities, including in Darwin and Dandenong.
Neil says the move to Ballarat was part of what immigration officials told him was a program to “fast-track” visas for refugees and asylum seekers moving to regional Australia.
But he says the promise of a visa was later reneged on, and the family’s bridging visas were removed, leaving Neil and Sugaa in a situation where they struggle to survive without the ability to work.
Neil volunteers with the State Emergency Service in the evenings, while Sugaa, also volunteers in aged care and for a local community centre.
Refugee advocates say there are as many as 12,000 asylum seekers and refugees in Australia who were excluded from the federal government’s announcement in February on a pathway to a permanent visa.
Those eligible included 19,000 people – from the Legacy Caseload – who had been living in Australia on temporary protection visas (TPV) or safe haven enterprise visas (SHEV).
Neil and his family are now understood to be among the up to 12,000 people who missed out. Meanwhile, data released by the Department on July 13 shows it has approved 2740 applications from asylum seekers and refugees who pursued the permanent pathway option announced in February, while 15,676 claims are still being processed.
Of the 32,045 individuals in the Legacy Caseload group, 7725 are reported to have had their cases closed either through refusal, cancellation or expiration.
After leaving Ballarat this Tuesday, Neil plans to head on to Newlyn, and then to continue on Wednesday from Newlyn through Daylesford and on to Malmsbury.
Former members of the now disbanded Rural Australian for Refugees Daylesford are supporting him during the Daylesford section of his walk and locals are being encouraged to get out, welcome him and cheer him on.