When things go wrong far from home
“They get money together for a one-way ticket and a visa, and hope to walk straight in to work. They might have a couple of hundred dollars in their pockets when they arrive, but the cost of living is extremely high here and if they have trouble finding a job at all their money can run out very quickly,”says Ross.
“We are getting calls from the embassy referring young lads to us who are practically homeless. They might have enough left for a few nights in a hostel, but no other money for food or anything. That’s the kind of desperation we are faced with at the moment, which is very different to what we have ever seen before.”
The lack of adequate travel insurance among the Irish community is another big cause for concern, especially among those who have extended their working-holiday visas for a second year but haven’t renewed their insurance policy.
“Those who come out on temporary visas have very few rights if things go wrong, and aren’t entitled to any welfare benefits,” says Orla Tunney of the Department of Foreign Affairs, who recently completed a four-year term as deputy head of mission at the Irish embassy in Canberra. “You are entitled to emergency medical treatment in a public hospital, but follow-up appointments are not covered. If you can’t work, you can’t earn money, which can get people in trouble financially. If the injury is really serious and you need to come home, the burden on families can be enormous.”
The Link groups liaise with local and national organisations that can provide practical and financial assistance to people in crisis situations. They also help to put people who are having trouble finding work in touch with potential employers through their network of Irish-Australian business contacts, or via their Facebook pages.
In response to the increasing demand for its services, the Perth bureau set up a weekly drop-in centre in the Irish Club last month to provide advice for people facing financial trouble. It has also applied to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs’ Emigrant Support Programme for financial assistance for the first time this year so it can rent a small office space and cover the costs of a part-time worker in 2013.
MORE THAN€1.3 million has been provided by the Irish Government to organisations in Australia since 2007 through the Emigrant Support Programme. Despite a shrinking overall budget, the amount of funding allocated to Australia has increased in recognition of the rising numbers of young people arriving there, and the ageing profile of the Irish community who moved there from the 1950s onwards.
The funding helps to cover the running costs of the organisations: rental on office space, phone bills, and the costs of hiring an administrator or case worker in some instances. But if the organisation wants to assist a member of the Irish community in a way that costs money, it has to fundraise.
“Fundraising is a huge part of what we do,” says O’Hagan, speaking about all four welfare organisations. “The Irish community and local business owners turn out in their droves to support us at the events we hold.”
Causes for benefit events can range from assistance funds to cover repatriation, special vehicles for disabled members of the Irish community, or new resources and equipment for the adult-computer classes. “We start the process and facilitate the fundraising, but the community are the ones who come along and support one another,” says O’Hagan. “We all know what it is like to live in a place but call another place home. That is what unites us here.
“This week and the weeks ahead will be tough for the Irish community here in Australia, but it is comforting to know we are here to support each other.”
For more information, see Irish Australian Welfare Bureau Sydney, iawb.org.au;
Claddagh Association Perth, claddagh.org.au;
Travel advice Australia
Travel insuranceBefore travelling, take out a comprehensive policy that covers all health costs including medical evacuation. Check the terms to make sure any sports or activities you intend to pursue in Australia are covered.