'Mum's eyes are red in the morning': Beloved Ballarat family issue passionate plea to the Australian government for protection

TOGETHER: The family have been in limbo for five years now. Photo: Kate Healy
TOGETHER: The family have been in limbo for five years now. Photo: Kate Healy

THE FIVE faces of a beloved Ballarat family are marked with worry as they struggle to obtain protection in Australia.

Neelavannan Paramanathan, or Neil Para, as he prefers to be known, his wife Suganthini, or Sugaa, and their three children - 11-year-old Nivash, eight-year-old Kartie and six-year-old Nive - are well-known faces in the community.

The family fled Sri Lanka for Australia by boat in 2012 as they were desperate to escape the religious and racial discrimination they were facing in their home country, in the civil war between their people - the Tamil - and the government. So desperate to flee the violence, in fact, that Sugaa was eight months pregnant.

After leaving detention, the family was given a Bridging Visa E (BVE) which allowed them to live in the community with work and study rights.

In September 2013, the family elected to move to Ballarat to begin their new lives, but the following year, in February 2014, these rights were removed, including the ability to access medical services through Medicare.

The family's future has been in limbo for five years now as they have doggedly attempted to pursue all avenues to secure protection from Australia. Now, in a last ditch effort for a positive decision, they are appealing to the federal government for assistance.

Mr Para has been unsuccessful in applying for another bridging visa to allow his family to remain in Australia while their immigration status is resolved. He said the whole process of obtaining protection had been convoluted, confusing and more than anything, highly stressful.

"We thought something would happen this year. But it has been a long time. It's been a very long, frustrating wait," he said.

His lawyer recently sat him down and told him he should inform his children of their situation, as their applications for a bridging visa had been continuously rejected, so they are turning to the government for intervention.

PLEA: Sisters Nivash Neelavannan (11), Kartie Neelavannan (8.5) and Nive Neelavannan (6) have each written a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Kate Healy

PLEA: Sisters Nivash Neelavannan (11), Kartie Neelavannan (8.5) and Nive Neelavannan (6) have each written a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Kate Healy

After educating the girls about why they had fled Sri Lanka, the three sisters penned moving letters about how the state of unknown had affected their family. Eldest daughter Nivash's letter has been shared hundreds of times online.

"We felt upset when we heard the news and wanted to do something to make mum and dad feel happier," Nivash said.

Though the Sri Lankan civil war officially ended in 2009, division in the country remains. Mr Para said the family could not return to Sri Lanka as it was not certain they would be safe.

"We can't think about going back. The kids have grown up here - our three girls - and there is no safety or protection for girls in Sri Lanka," he said.

"I am sharing this letter in the hope that a miracle will happen. I feel like I am almost Australian - my English is different, my colour is different but I do everything that others do. We are waiting for that day to call ourselves Australians. We want to be good citizens here .

Neil Para

Contribution to community

Since they are unable to work, the family's bills are paid for by the Ballarat community - the Ballarat Rural Australians for Refugees group, Uniting Church and St Vincent's de Paul.

The children continue to attend Black Hill Primary School - where they are thriving and have each won numerous leadership awards - but it was a blow to their parents, who want nothing more than to work and contribute to the community they love so much.

As they have no working rights, both adults spend most of their time volunteering. Mr Para has been a volunteer at the State Emergency Service for more than three years - responding to over 200 jobs since he completed his training - while Sugaa volunteers at an aged care facility.

"I was a hard worker and didn't want to just stay at home," Mr Para said.

He has won numerous awards for his community service across a range of groups.

Sugaa said she enjoyed her volunteer work and it was through her work at the aged care facility that she learnt English.

"When I started my volunteer work I didn't know how to speak English or have study rights so I learnt by talking to people," she said.

All three girls are high achievers with big dreams but like all children, they like to play sport, sing songs, dance, write stories and do arts and crafts. And they all adore going to school and playing with their friends.

Nivash, a dedicated student, has particularly big dreams.

"I am interested in science, maths, writing, reading and sometimes I make a mess while trying to do art," Nivash said. "When I grow up and become a cardiologist, I will do many wonderful things for Australia. I will do all the best I can for Australia because I have friends I can trust and everybody that I know is here."

Community support

Ballarat Rural Australians for Refugees member Merle Hathaway said the whole family was a huge asset to the community and the group completely supported them.

"They are essential to this community. Neil has done so much for us and other community groups," she said.

Ballarat MP Catherine King said the family were valued community members and she had written twice to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to advocate for the family and would do so once again.

"Their kids go to school here, and Neelavannan and Suganthini are involved in numerous community and volunteer groups," she said. "This family is an asset to our community, and that is reflected in the ongoing support they have received."

Ditchy's view.

Ditchy's view.

This was echoed by City of Ballarat Mayor Samantha McIntosh, who said the family was well-loved.

"I have every bit of support for Neil and his family in Ballarat. I have watched [them] over a number of years. The community has wrapped their arms around [Neil] and his family and it's been a heartwarming experience for everyone to see the way [they] have contributed to Ballarat," she said.

"Their volunteering contribution and support to the community have been outstanding."

Immigration status

A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said it does not comment on individual cases.

"All protection claims are assessed individually on their own merits," a statement to The Courier read. "These decisions are reviewable through merits review and the judicial system; however, once these legal avenues have been exhausted and the courts have ruled that protection is not owed, applicants are expected to voluntarily depart Australia.

"The requirements for conferral of Australian citizenship require (amongst other things) the applicant to be a permanent resident, have lived in Australia for four years on a valid visa and meet character requirements."