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.
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, 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 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,” Ford said.
“It is great to see he has been granted permanent residency, it means the family can move on.”
Para said he was “grateful” for the decision and sure his children would “follow their dream”.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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,” Para said.
Hundreds of people walked alongside 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 Para and his support vehicle through a cow paddock. 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.
They have since lodged many appeals against the rejection and made applications for ministerial intervention, including just after the beginning of 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.