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Refugee freedom walker urges decision-makers to provide hope for children

Doesn’t every little girl want the chance to play for the Matildas right now?

With every little girl in Australia dreaming big as the Matildas continue their record-beating World Cup run, Neil Para is calling for decision-makers to provide hope and certainty so that refugee children living in Australia can also dream big.

Neil has just crossed the border into New South Wales, 415 kms into a 1000km walk to raise awareness of the plight of 10,000 refugees who, after 10 challenging years, are still waiting for permanent visas.

That number includes 2,000 families with children, including many children born here in Australia. Despite having lived and grown up in the community, attended school and having dreams just like their Australian friends, these children are not free to follow their hearts and dreams or enjoy their rights.

The lack of permanent visas has a devastating ongoing impact for parents and children, as well as for families who are not able to reunite.

Speaking on The Project on Sunday, 15-year-old Nivash (Neil and Sugaa’s eldest daughter) shared how upsetting it is to see how the lack of certainty about the family’s future affects her parents, who are not able to work to provide for the family.

Nivash also cannot work part-time like her friends, nor can she follow her dreams of studying to become a cardiac surgeon. Nivash has made an emotional plea asking Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to meet with Neil at the end of his 1000km walk.

In her second letter to the Prime Minister asking for help she wrote:

“I don’t really understand politics, but I know what you are doing to my family is unjust and I just hope you find it in your heart to help this family of 5 you’ve been tormenting for the past 10 years.”

Neil and Sugaa’s second daughter, 13-year-old Kartie, is in the same situation, whilst 10-year-old Nive who was born in Australia has been granted citizenship.

Throughout Neil’s walk, refugee families have shared heartbreaking stories of the mental health toll of not being able to work and build a life for their children and contribute to a better Australia.

Close family friend and supporter, Shae Duggan said,

“It has been heartbreaking to watch the effect of this ongoing cruelty on the Para family over eight years. The girls know nothing else but Australian life, they see themselves as no different to their peers and yet our government withholds any type of future for them. It’s incredibly damaging for these children. The Ballarat people have welcomed this family, they are Ballarat people now and they have shown that they deserve a future here.”

The negative impact of prolonged visa insecurity on refugee families in Australia has been well documented. Visa insecurity leads to poorer mental health outcomes for mothers and children, causing heightened mental anguish for parents. Key factors of a lack of certainty, ongoing trauma resulting from detention, family separation and restrictions on freedom have a long-term mental health toll for parents, with enormous effects on children’s wellbeing.

Neil is calling for permanent visas so that children are not left behind. He is asking that:

  1. Children born in Australia should have the same rights as other Australian children.
  2. All children who have attended Australian schools should be given Australian citizenship or permanent residency with a pathway to become Australian citizens.
  3. All remaining refugees living in Australia should be included in the permanent visas process announced by Andrew Giles on February 13, 2023.

Neil is almost 400km into a 1000km refugee freedom walk to Prime Minister Albanese’s electorate office in Sydney to raise awareness of the plight of refugees especially those with no visas or visas that don’t give them certainty for their future. Neil’s invitation to meet with Prime Minister Albanese has not yet had a response.

As Neil’s daughters, like every other little girl in Australia, wait with anticipation for the Matilda’s first ever semi-final in a FIFA World Cup tonight, Neil asks:

“I call on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Immigration Minister Andrew Giles to allow refugee children to grow up, follow their dreams, and contribute to the Australian community. My girls are just like all other girls in Australia who right now are dreaming that they could one day play for the Matildas. Provide all refugees, including families with children, the ability to work, study, build, plan and dream for the future.”

Neil and his wife Sugaa are Sri Lankan refugees living in Ballarat. With their three daughters, they have lived with uncertainty for 11 years. With no visa, they are not allowed to work or have access to Medicare. His daughters’ access to tertiary study is affected too. Neil is asking for a permanent visa to give certainty to his family.

Neil will present a petition to Mr Albanese’s office (which has already attracted more than 16,000 signatures) urging permanent visas for the 10,000 who were overlooked when Mr Giles announced in February that some refugees could apply for permanent residency.

Sign the petition here.


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1 comment

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  1. Andrew Smith

    Labor (like the LNP) cannot play the old eugenics based myth that immigrants take jobs and/or damage awards/conditions to deny temporary or other residents work rights; creating a hostile environment for unfounded economic reasons, but catering to politics that forms negative attitudes e.g. towards refugees and all things ‘immigration’ e.g. ‘taking our jerbs’.

    Working age passed the ‘demographic sweet spot’ over a decade ago as baby boomers (last outcome of high fertility parents) started moving into retirement, where the fastest permanent population growth is happening, while becoming more dependent upon working age taxes to support budgets and the economy.

    From Solidarity 2012: ‘The suggestion that bringing 457 visa workers from overseas is coming at the expense of “local jobs” reinforces the myth that immigration causes unemployment and drives down wages….evidence from Australia and internationally shows that immigration actually creates jobs. In his book, Immigration and the Australian Economy, William Foster’s surveys over 200 studies on immigration and wages. He found there was, “a marginally favourable effect on the aggregate unemployment rate, even in recession”.’

    Immigration is not to blame for cuts to jobs and wages

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