Sri Lankan Asylum seeker arrives in Sydney after 1,000km walk from Ballarat

Asylum seeker Neil Para has completed a 1,000-kilometre walk to Sydney, hoping to raise awareness for thousands of families living in limbo as they seek permanent residency in Australia.

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. 

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

Mr Para is one of 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.

He will 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 a really sad feeling [that] no politicians from the government’s side have recognised this or responded to this walk,” Mr Para said.

“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 Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said at the start of Mr Para’s walk that 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. 

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. 

Long-time supporter of the Para family and walk organiser Margaret O’Donnell said the 1,000km journey might be over, but their difficult situation would continue without ministerial intervention.

She has appealed to 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. 

He said he felt sad watching the children joyously playing together at that event. 

“It was very sad to see those children, like my children also. They were not worrying about anything when they were little and now my children are worrying about their future,” Mr Para said. 

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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