A Sri Lankan asylum seeker in Australia has initiated a 1000km-long journey on foot from Ballarat to Sydney, in a bid to bring the attention of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to refugee families living in limbo and to seek permanent residency in Australia.
Neil Para has been living in the regional Victorian city of Ballarat in Australia for more than 8 years with no visa.
He is one of approximately 12,500 people who have been living in Australia for more than a decade but are ineligible to apply for permanent residency under the new Resolution of Status visa – about 2,500 have no visa at all, according to foreign media.
Para fled Sri Lanka in 2008 amidst the civil war, to Malaysia, leaving his wife, Sugaa, behind.
In 2012, along with his eight-month pregnant wife, and two kids, Para travelled by boat to Christmas Island, an Australian external territory, via Indonesia.
The family spent time in a detention centre in Darwin, then community detention, before being released on a bridging visa in September 2013, when they moved to Ballarat.
Para was able to work while on a bridging visa for four months, until their application for protection was rejected and their visa was revoked.
The family has relied on community members to pay their rent and cover bills for almost nine years, while lodging appeals against the rejection and applications for ministerial intervention.
Para has said not having access to Medicare had deprived her children of their childhood, as she did not allow them to do things that carried the risk of getting hurt.
The youngest daughter is now an Australian citizen, however, the family faces deportation at any time.
Para is planning to walk about 30 kilometres each day with the goal to arrive by September 09.
More than 100 volunteers are expected to be part of the journey, driving his support vehicle and offering him a place to stay each night.
Para has gathered more than 11,500 signatures on an online petition to deliver to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on arrival in Sydney.
A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Home Affairs said in a statement it would not comment on individual cases due to privacy obligations.
The spokesperson said each case was assessed on its merits, taking into account individual circumstances and the most current and relevant country of origin information.