“11 years in limbo without a permanent visa, steady job or continuous Medicare.”
Sri Lankan refugee and asylum seeker Neil Para yesterday set out on his 1,000 kilometre walk for freedom to raise awareness of the plight of refugees in Australia, especially those with no visas or visas that don’t give them certainty for their future.
A large crowd of supporters from his hometown Ballarat and surrounds farewelled him and launched the milestone walk to the Prime Minister’s electorate office in Sydney where Neil will deliver a petition.
The petition urges permanent residency (visas) for more than 10,000 refugees and asylum seekers like Neil who cannot legally earn an income because they have been waiting for years for the Australian Government to grant them a visa that allows them to work.
A new link added to the petition his week urges people to email their local MP asking them to support Neil and write to the Prime Minister asking him to meet Neil at the walk’s conclusion.
After a stirring Welcome to Country at the launch, RAR Supporter Brett said: “Neil is the bravest man I know. At the end of this we hope that one day, we can attend Neil, Sugaa and the girls’ ceremony to become citizens, wouldn’t that be a wonderful moment. Ten years too long – Neil is very much a part of this community.”
Lieke Janssen from Refugee Action Collective said: “Neil is walking 1000km for himself, his family and over 7000 people that are still being left behind under the Albanese’s no-one will be left behind government. Politicians there is no need to hide behind this excuse, we cannot comment on individual cases. Neil is walking for thousands, every politician come stand behind Neil and the thousands that deserve this.
“1,000km is gonna be challenging and hard but it’s nothing compared with the challenges these refugees have been living with without a permanent visa for so long, every day they face consequences of living without this security. We need permanent visas and freedom now.”
Ballarat city councillor Belinda Coates said: “Neil gives back so much to this community. You are doing this for others to adjust what has been happening in this country for too long. I hope this is the start of the change of that conversation.”
The 7,000+ refugees missed out when the Federal Government announced in February that refugees who held Temporary Protection and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas could apply for permanent visas.
They are denied work rights, study rights and even Medicare access.
Apart from being granted the freedom to work, Neil also wants refugees to be granted the freedom to vote, become an Australian citizen and have all the rights that Australian citizens do.
Neil, who will walk from his home in Ballarat to the Prime Minister’s Sydney Electorate office, has lived in Australia in limbo for 11 years without a permanent visa, steady job or continuous Medicare with his wife Sugaa and their three young daughters Nivash, Kartie and Australian-born Nive who has Australian citizenship.
They have lived under various immigration restrictions even though they are ambitious to build careers. Neil was a hairdresser in Sri Lanka and wants to be a police officer in Australia, while Sugaa would love to be an aged care worker.
The Federal Government’s Resolution of Status (RoS) permanent visa announcement this year paved the way for permanent visas for 19,000 refugees with a pathway to citizenship and family reunion (who were on temporary protection or safe haven enterprise visas at the time of the announcement). Sadly, Neil is one of thousands still missing out. Most of these were maritime arrivals.
Beyond trying to find certainty for his family, for whom return to strife-torn Sri Lanka would be dangerous, Neil is advocating for refugees who’ve been left behind in similar circumstances to him.
It’s a wide-open road for the stateless.
“I’m calling on the government to end the uncertainty for all refugees seeking a safe home. Please grant us permanent visas and the freedom to work,” Neil said. “I am also walking so that refugee children can have certainty.”
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