National Week of Prayer and Action 2023 – Taking Advocacy and Action

By Neil Para

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country, but Australia has embraced me warmly and is my home.

Life was polarised in Sri Lanka during the war. People who wanted to be neutral or stay safe had to leave. Yet the Australian Government does not fully recognise the ongoing dangers to Tamils who were swept up in that. Sadly, it is not safe for me to return. We need that to be recognised.

I have found the experiences of the past 15 years transformative. Refugees are struggling for recognition by Immigration and have a great deal in common. My motivation for doing the 1000km Walk for Freedom* came realising that my family’s experience (and desperate need) is matched by that of others. There are many in a similar situation.

Freedom to live to me means the right to be with or to visit family, it means the right to study and work. The freedom to walk past beautiful paddocks of canola is wonderful. But the dignity of freestanding, self-sufficient independence is even better.  It means having access to the basic terms of citizenship like voting and paying tax. Freedom is reciprocal.

We have also seen the best that Ballarat has offered in terms of schooling and community care. We have seen what is possible. Volunteering in Ballarat taught us English, but we gained so much more in terms of experience of people, attitudes, culture and how to be useful.

Some of the ways people can advocate and take action include signing petitions and writing to politicians. Support Rural Australians for Refugees and organisations like Jesuit Refugee Service who make a difference to refugees. The kindness and time and generosity of community members have made such a huge impact on our lives. Almost every person has the power to lift others up, to change another life. Sometimes it just takes a smile. The Christian community can be truly thoughtful and caring towards refugees. Thank you.

‘A Fair Go’ means ending the legacy caseload and historic suffering. Australia can let go of unnecessarily cruel immigration policy and press reset. Those who have survived in limbo or with prolonged uncertainty (let alone indefinite detention) are resilient and can make a difference to Australia.

I ask the government and ask the people for certainty, certainty for the children and all of the refugees. Only permanent residency and protection will be enough. For over a decade now we have been waiting, and we now need certainty, we need justice, we need freedom.

*Neil Para is currently undertaking an incredible action: the 1 000km Walk for Freedom over 40 days from Ballarat to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s electorate in Marrickville, Sydney, to advocate for 10 000 people seeking asylum, including his own family, to be given the right to permanent protection in Australia. Neil also founded the Union of Australian Refugees.

Neil fled persecution from Sri Lanka in 2008, arriving with his family in 2012, where they were detained on Christmas Island. Neil, his wife and three daughters have called Ballarat, Victoria, home since 2013. Other than his youngest daughter, Neil and his family currently do not have a valid visa or the right to work, study or access Medicare.

Neil will be arriving in Sydney this Sunday, 10th September. To support Neil, you can
sign his petition, follow the Union of Australian Refugees on Facebook, join him on his last stretch of his
1 000km Walk to Freedom on Saturday the 9th September at
Liverpool College Park, Sydney, or join him on 10th September for a celebration picnic in Sydney to celebrate its conclusion.