Home » Tamil asylum seeker granted permanent residency during 1,000km walk for thousands in limbo

Tamil asylum seeker granted permanent residency during 1,000km walk for thousands in limbo

Key Points
  • A Tamil refugee has completed his 1,000km walk for asylum seekers.
  • Neil Para took 40 days to complete the goal.
  • Para and his family arrived by boat in Australian waters in August 2012.
When Neil Para fled Sri Lanka, he carried few possessions.
He, his wife and child reached Malaysia, where they lived for four years before deciding to board a boat headed for Australia.

“We left Sri Lanka because our life was in danger,” the 44-year-old Tamil refugee told SBS News.

Para and his family arrived by boat in Australian waters in August 2012. They were taken to the detention centre on Christmas Island under the government’s offshore detention policy for boat arrivals.

“I arrived with no English language skills. The time in detention scarred me,” he said.

1,000km journey ends with giant step forward

Neil says the experience of his family – and thousands of others living in visa limbo – inspired him to walk 1,000km from Ballarat in Victoria to the prime minister’s office in Sydney.
He reached Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s electorate on Sunday flanked by his family, friends and supporters who celebrated his efforts after walking for 40 days straight to raise awareness about thousands of asylum seekers living in limbo in Australia.
“I see I’m here, I’m standing and alive and vertical so I’m really happy to see and happy to be reunited with my family,” he said.

And late last week, he received some welcome news on his own status. His immigration lawyer Carina Ford confirmed to SBS News that Immigration Minister Andrew Giles used his special ministerial powers to grant him and his family permanent residency.

5 people posed for a portrait smiling.

Neil Para’s lawyer confirmed that late last week immigration minister Andrew Giles had used his special ministerial powers to grant the family permanent residency. Source: SBS News

“We look forward to working not walking. My kids can follow their dreams,” he said.

Neil’s daughter Nivash was proud of the achievement.
“I realised how many children aren’t with their parents because of similar situations or situations far worse than ours,” she told SBS News.

“I just wish those thousands of people out there can get a happy ending like we did.”

Previously supporting on community support

The Para family had spent months in offshore and onshore detention facilities, including in Darwin and Dandenong, before settling in Ballarat in September 2013.

Neil Para with his wife Sugaa and their daughters at a park.

Neil Para is pictured with his wife, Sugaa and their three daughters. He says he and his wife learned English through their volunteering efforts. Source: Supplied / Neil Para

He volunteers with the State Emergency Service in the evenings, while his wife volunteers in aged care and for the local community centre.

“We use every single opportunity to volunteer,” Para said, who received the Best Neighbour Award in 2020 through the neighbourhood network Nextdoor Australia.

“Because we’re not allowed to study English, this is how we improved our English. Listening and mixing with the community, we just integrated.”

Para said he and his family wouldn’t have been able to survive without the support of the local Ballarat community.

“Their help is the reason why I’ve kept going for my family,” he said.

Long-term uncertainty takes a toll

Asylum seekers and refugee boat arrivals that entered Australian waters before 1 January 2014 were subject to a different set of visa processing rules that limited their ability to seek a more permanent visa status.
Para fell into that group of about 30,000 people known as the Legacy Caseload.
A blanket ban was applied to individuals in this group, preventing them from having a refugee protection visa application processed unless the Immigration Minister exercised personal discretion to override the ban (known as “lifting the bar”).
A found the set of policies raised red flags for breaches of Australia’s human rights obligations.
Research links immigration detention with post-traumatic stress disorder image

SBS News


Areas of concern included that the policies could result in asylum seeker families “being left without any source of income”; as well as limited access to legal advice and constrained review options at the tribunal.
Among those providing a helping hand was the Ballarat Rural Australians for Refugees group.
The group’s convener, Margaret O’Donnell, said the community has rallied behind Neil, his wife Sugaa, and their three daughters aged between 10 and 15.
“We have got to know Neil and his family. They do a lot of volunteer work in the community,” she said.

“It’s in the public interest, especially for the people of Ballarat – and other people who know the family – that they are given a permanent visa so they can get on with their lives.

A man holds a map showing the path of his walk from Ballarat to Sydney.

Neil Para says he aims to tally up 1,000 kilometres of walking and reach Sydney by early September. Source: Supplied / Peter Kervarec

“The other difficulty is when the children turn 17, they probably won’t be allowed to continue further study because of the regulations.”

O’Donnell said while Para’s situation is on the more extreme end, there are thousands in the Australian community living on a bridging visa with restrictions, including limited work rights and no access to Medicare or educational support.

“The uncertainty is just no good for people’s mental health. They can contribute – and are contributing – to society. They’ve suffered long enough,” she said.

What’s your Reaction?
What’s your Reaction?

Leave a Comment

To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture.
You can enter the Tamil word or English word but not both
Anti-Spam Image