Ballarat’s mayor is urging the federal government to provide a much-loved family of asylum seekers greater certainty as they mark their eighth year stuck in “limbo”.
Neil Para and his family arrived in Ballarat from Sri Lanka in 2013 on a temporary bridging visa
More than 350,000 people in Australia have bridging visas
Ballarat mayor Daniel Moloney says the council will continue to advocate for the Para family
Neil Para, his wife Sugaa Neil and their three school-aged daughters moved from Sri Lanka to Ballarat in September 2013 on a bridging visa.
But Mr Para said their visas were revoked for no apparent reason just four months later.
The couple has since been seeking asylum and have been unable to legally work.
They cannot access government services such as Medicare and Centrelink.
“We’re still in limbo. No visas, nothing at all,” Mr Para said.
“We want to work but are unable to work.”
‘The height of cruelty’
The Para family has committed to giving back to their local community despite their challenging situation.
Mr Para volunteers with the Victoria State Emergency Services Ballarat Unit and Mrs Neil volunteers at the council’s visitor information centre.
Mayor Daniel Moloney called on the federal government to end the Para family’s “cruel” ordeal as Australia marked annual refugee week.
“It’s another level of cruelty when you actually say to a refugee family, ‘you can’t work, you can’t earn an income and are dependent on others’,” Mr Moloney said.
“That’s just the height of cruelty.”
He said he and preceding mayors had written to the previous Morrison government in a push to secure certainty for the family and “pave the way” for permanent citizenship.
“We love what Neil and Sugaa have done for us,” he said.
Mr Moloney said the compassion shown by the federal government to allow fellow Tamil refugee family, the Murugappans, to return to Biloela in central Queensland, should be extended to the Para family.
“They’re in almost the exactly the same situation,” he said.
“Fortunately they haven’t been forced into offshore detention … but there are many similarities.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said it did not comment on individual cases, but “non-citizens who have exhausted all avenues to remain in Australia are expected to depart”.
Refugee pushes for reform
Ballarat refugee Raza Hazara is also calling for the federal government to improve policies for refugees and asylum seekers.
Mr Hazara spent six months in community detention when he arrived in Ballarat from Afghanistan in 2013 as a teenager.
He said he experienced feelings of fear and uncertainty when he was released from detention.
“It was really tough,” he said.
“There wasn’t much support to be honest, it was really limited.”
Mr Hazara was granted a safe haven enterprise visa late last year.
While the visa gave him greater rights such as work rights in designated areas and Medicare, Mr Hazara said it wasn’t without conditions and limitations.
“You do have access to education, but it’s limited to TAFE,” he said.
“You can’t go to university or be eligible for any HECS funding.”
He said Australia’s refugee policies were “putting pressure on people’s mental health”.
“It’s not giving (refugees) the fair opportunity of accepting they are part of the community, that Australia is their new home and they can move on and re-build a new life here,” he said.