Twenty-two women from Tamil Eelam and Iran are embarking on a 600-kilometre journey from Melbourne to Canberra, raising their voices for the rights of asylum seekers and demanding permanent protection visas.
The women, who have spent over a decade living on bridging visas, are calling for a shift from the temporary limbo to permanent residency. The plight of these asylum seekers, including the challenges faced by families separated during the perilous journey to Australia, is vividly captured in their stories as told to ABC Shepparton.
Piumetharshika Kaneshan, who arrived in Australia at the tender age of five, shared the heart-wrenching story of losing her father last year without the opportunity to bid him farewell. "I wasn't even able to see him or touch him for the last time at all," she said, underscoring the emotional toll of the asylum process.
Harini Rathnakumar, another Tamil asylum seeker, expressed the difficulties of growing up without her mother. She described the challenges of navigating adolescence without maternal guidance, emphasising the need for family reunification.
Beyond advocating for permanent protection, the women are also campaigning for improved work and study rights for asylum seekers and refugees in Australia. The hurdles they face include restricted access to education, as highlighted by Ms. Kaneshan, whose sister was unable to pursue university due to financial constraints associated with their visa status.
"Even if you get in, you are labelled as an international student and you have to pay what an international student has to pay."
"Please listen to us," implores Rathy Barthlote, a Tamil woman leading the walk to Canberra. "Listen to our hope and our feelings. Please don't leave us."
Photo: Tamil Refugee Council