My Story – by Neil Para

Photo Credit – Aldona Kmiec

Neil Para gave the following speech at the “Finding Freedom ??” event held on June 18, by Hunter Asylum Seeker Advocacy during Refugee Week 2024.

Following is an extract of the speech, there is a link to the whole speech following the extract.

I am Neil Para, living in Ballarat, Victoria since 2013. I came to
Australia in 2012 by boat with my two daughters and pregnant wife,
to escape persecution and danger in Sri Lanka. We were detained
in Darwin and my third child was born there.

We were released into Community Detention in Dandenong;
Victoria in January 2013 and we moved to Ballaarat in September
2013 upon receiving our Bridging Visa E with work rights. Before we
established our life in Ballarat, our visa was revoked in February
2014. We were on this land on a visa for just 5 months and 3 days.
After that we did not have any visas or work rights until September
2023.

Even though I could not speak English, I started to go to find
friends. As my dad said, I did not wait for people to welcome my
family, instead, I went to them to say who we are. We wrote
Christmas cards to neighbours, participated in working bees at my
children’s school and in the community. I realized that my English
was improving, and we were getting known by people every day.

As I could not speak English well, I was telling my family stories by
action and those actions were appreciated by the wider Australian
Community. Building a circle of contacts was helpful when I started
groups and committees, worked with the community, public and
council, I did all of this as a volunteer. I joined the Victoria State
Emergency Service even before I was confident in my English.
Now, I am a crew leader, mentoring other members, and I have
made so many new friends, not only in Ballarat, not only in
Victoria, but in wider Australia.

I have also written a book in English about my family, which can be
found at the Rural Australians for Refugees website.

Freedom, in my opinion, is the right that lets me make my own
decisions and actions. Freedom is vital for a happy and fulfilled life.

Freedom gives me power and I should be able to use this power in
a way for the best interest of my community, my people and myself.

In a way, even though we did not have a visa, I had freedom to
grow in this country because I could make my own decisions and
live in greater freedom.  I was not discriminated against because I
was Tamil or Hindu.

So that is my story now: what can we do for other refugees in
Australia. There are so many refugees doing so many good things
in the community, but how many stories are reaching the wider
Australian community? We don’t do enough to let people know the
good things refugees do, but it is vital that we should let people
know us by our actions.  This will create a positive image.

My suggestion:

I am talking with people about refugees at every single opportunity.
Do we need to do millions of protests and rallies? Maybe yes,
maybe no. We have the freedom to protest but I think if we protest it
is important that we leave a positive image. Talk to your neighbours
and workmates about the issue. Promote positive news about
refugees.

I also see a very small number of protesters showing anger at
“Peaceful protests”. It will not win friends particularly, when they
look different to some Australians. How many of you are reading
comments, “send them back” when there were angry protesters.
We should handle the freedom of democracy in a better way. Our
freedom cannot be a nuisance to the public. We will be more
successful if we win friends. This worked for me.

Manageable step.

Are we asking for bulk intervention now via protests? I think every
refugee who has been left in limbo should write a ministerial
intervention request and that may be a bit easier for the government
rather than a bulk intervention like 19000 Resolution of Status Visa.

I also see that we are taking all issues and fighting for all issues.
But, if we can fight for the people who live in our community and
next door, to get permanency for them, then, they can reunite with
their families who are tormented by family separation. There are so
many refugee issues in the world, but we can’t fight for them all.

We are only speaking to the Australians who welcome refugees, but
there are other people who don’t want refugees coming in. As a
government, they want votes. In my experience, the people I speak
to are saying, we want refugees like your family Neil. Don’t you
think it is a lack of hearing positive stories about refugees’
contributions? I have friends from all major parties, a friend of mine,
he was voting for the United Australia Party and One Nation, has
written letters to grant my family a permanent visa. He changed his
mind because he  he got to know my story and see my contribution to
the community.

We have freedom in Australia but that doesn’t mean we are always
going to get what we see as right. Politics in Australia has two clear
sides.  Our job is to win more friends like my One Nation friend.
Freedom is our weapon, please don’t abandon it and use it wisely.
But we are losing hope, we are losing trust because change is
taking so long.

Yes, there are many refugees who want faster change in their
situation, and others who have refugee status who are struggling to
fit into Australian culture.  I know it is not easy. I was there for ten
years.

In conclusion, in Australia I had the freedom to create friends and
supporters.  I did this by creating a positive message.  This worked
for me. I suggest it could work for you. Thanks for listening.
Thank you.

DOWNLOAD:  My Speech by Neil Para

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