Together for tea and empathy

Neil and Sugaa Para with their three daughters. Photo: Aldona Kmie.

Tamil refugee Neil Para is a man with firsthand knowledge of the anguish experienced by refugees and asylum-seekers trapped in a bureaucratic limbo. 

For years he lived in an agony of uncertainty, fearful for his future and for that of his family. 

Neil fled the civil war in Sri Lanka and, together with his wife Sugaa and their two young daughters, found sanctuary in Australia. 

They looked forward to a secure and happy new life but instead found themselves stymied by red tape and held in community detention for nearly a decade, forced to rely on meagre government handouts, supplemented by assistance from refugee support groups. 

Atena Kashani (L) with her mother Fatemah.

They wanted to work, and give something back to the country that had sheltered them but, under the conditions of their detention, were forbidden to undertake paid employment. 

Their daughters were denied educational opportunity beyond the age of 18. 

The Para family became one of thousands forced to exist in a twilight world without opportunity or the freedom of choice that Australians take for granted. 

Neil’s situation is now resolved with the granting of permanent residence, but the future of more than 12,000 refugees and asylum-seekers remains uncertain. 

Atena Kashani, an 18-year-old from Iran, was accorded temporary asylum in Australia, but without prospect of a permanent solution. She is desperate to further her education and has been offered a scholarship to undertake a law degree but government regulations prevent her from pursuing it. 

Neil and Atena will share their stories as guests of Macedon Ranges Rural Australians for Refugees. They will be joined by author and academic Sandy Watson, a Trentham resident with close ties to the refugee community. 

Sandy founded her local branch of Rural Australians for Refugees and is communications convenor of the national body. Together with Neil and Atena, she will shed light on the difficulties faced by refugees awaiting a decision on their future. 

The event, scheduled in Woodend on Saturday week, is both an information afternoon and fundraiser. 

Refreshments will be served in the form of a high tea. Wine can be purchased by the glass. 

Musical entertainment will be provided by Bendigo-based string ensemble, Trio Elegante, and raffle tickets will be sold with excellent prizes on offer. All funds raised will go to organisations directly supporting refugees and asylum seekers. 

Where: Norma Richardson Hall, 15 Buckland Street, Woodend.
When: 2pm – 4.30pm, Saturday November 11.