Asylum seeker Neil Para granted permanent residency after 1,000km walk from Ballarat to Sydney

As he neared the end of his 1,000-kilometre walk to Sydney to raise awareness for thousands of families living in limbo as they seek permanent residency, asylum seeker Neil Para and his family have been granted theirs. 

Mr Para, his wife, and three daughters lived in the regional Victorian city of Ballarat for more than nine years with no right to work or study, or Medicare access, after fleeing civil war in Sri Lanka in 2008. 

But on Friday, Mr Para and his family were granted permanent residency.

The family’s immigration lawyer, Carina Ford, said the family was granted visas near the end of Mr Para’s walk.

She said each case was determined individually.

“It’s a really pleasing decision. The main thing with Neil is that he has been such a great community man for the town of Ballarat,” Ms Ford said.

“It is great to see he has been granted permanent residency, [it] means the family can move on.”

Mr Para said he was “grateful” for the decision and sure his children would “follow their dream”.

Man with arms in the air walks toward a yellow finish line ribbon.
Mr Para crosses the finish line in Sydney.(Supplied: Sumitra Vignaendra)

“Thank you, Australia. Now it really is my home,” he said.

“My family feels humbled … We promise that we will contribute to Australia.”

He said refugees had a lot to offer the country.

“One day I hope all will be free.”

Walking with a petition

Mr Para set off from Ballarat with well-wishes from a crowd of supporters on August 1 and was due to arrive at Enmore Park in Sydney on September 10 for a celebration picnic after completing the final 6km stretch with his family. 

There are about 12,500 people who have lived 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.

Mr Para planned to deliver a petition containing more than 19,000 signatures to the prime minister’s office on Monday, calling on the federal government to end uncertainty for asylum seekers living in limbo. 

“It is not only my walk. All Australians are walking with me and supporting this walk.”

A group of people in high vis
Hundreds of people have walked with Neil Para along his journey.(Supplied: Neil Para)

A government spokesperson said it did not comment on individual cases.

“The minister has discretion to intervene on compelling and compassionate grounds, including but not limited to, in cases where the individual as Australian citizen children,” the spokesperson said.

Meeting hundreds of supporters

Mr Para walked an average of 30km every day, although some rest days were dedicated to community events along the journey. 

He said blisters were a major challenge, but the support of hundreds of people pushed him along. 

“It was a real challenge for me to walk with the blisters and put my feet in the boots, but I have a goal, I have a purpose, I have a family, I have a community,” Mr Para said. 

“So all of this is coming into my mind and I get such energy from the people who are supporting me. All this made me continue this walk.”

A man in a high vis vest stands with a man and woman in front of a car that has a walker ahead sign
Neil Para received plenty of support along his walk.(Supplied: Neil Para)

Hundreds of people walked alongside Mr Para during his journey and were involved in organising the route and events along the way.

They cooked meals, made packed lunches, drove the support vehicle and offered him a place to stay. 

Some volunteers were tasked with testing the route, to avoid mishaps like one day when online directions took Mr Para and his support vehicle through a cow paddock. 

A paddock with cows
Neil Para walked through a cow paddock on the way to Nubba in New South Wales. (Supplied)

Mr Para said he has felt all of Australia behind him, an extension of the long and ongoing support from people in Ballarat, who the Para family have relied on to pay their rent and cover their bills for nearly 10 years. 

He was able to work for just four months when he was first released into the community in Australia on a bridging visa — until the family’s application for protection was rejected and their visa was revoked.

A family sits on a couch with arms around each other
Neil para (second from right) with his family, Nive, Sugaa, Nivash and Kartie.(ABC Ballarat: Rochelle Kirkham)

They have since lodged many appeals against the rejection and made applications for ministerial intervention, including just after the beginning of Mr Para’s walk. 

Supporters previously called on Immigration Minister Andrew Giles to grant the Para family permanent residency, just as he did for a family from Biloela last year

Sharing the message

Mr Para said highlights from the walk included an event with more than 200 people from the asylum seeker community in Shepparton, including many who had lived in limbo for more than a decade. 

Two men stand in front of a crowd holding a sign that reads vote yes
Ultra marathon runner Pat Farmer (right) gifted Neil a pair of sneakers when they met.(Supplied: Neil Para)

Also along his journey, Mr Para met with ultra marathon runner Pat Farmer who was running 14,400km around Australia to raise awareness for the Voice to Parliament.

He also met councillors and politicians. 

Mr Para said he enjoyed seeing the Australian landscape, particularly the yellow canola fields.


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