Coronavirus: Government could offer financial aid to Irish stranded abroad
Government working with 2,000 Irish citizens in 86 countries trying to get home
Tánaiste Simon Coveney: ‘People have to show patience, there aren’t instant solutions.’ Photograph:Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is investigating the possibility of offering financial support to Irish citizens stranded abroad who have run out of money, the Tánaiste has said.
Simon Coveney said on Wednesday his department was working with about 2,000 Irish citizens in 86 countries who are trying to get home. About 1,200 of these are in Australia and some 160 are in Peru, the minister said.
While the DFA has successfully negotiated a rescue flight from Lima, internal travel in the country remains heavily restricted and the Government is continuing efforts to secure transport to the capital, he said.
DFA staff are also working to secure an airline to fly home Irish citizens from Australia and New Zealand, Mr Coveney said, adding that he was speaking directly with airlines chief executives, including Qantas, to find a route back to Europe.
“This isn’t about money, we’ve already signed up to spend €300,000 on a rescue flight from Peru,” Mr Coveney told Red FM. “Money is not the impediment in helping Irish people and getting vulnerable people who are abroad home. People have to show patience, there aren’t instant solutions.
“We’re trying to deal with people on a case-by-case basis. Given the scale of what we’re facing at the moment in multiple countries people have to show understanding that complex solutions to get people home can’t be put in place immediately.”
However, if people are stranded abroad without money “we’re also going to look at financial supports for people who are in financial difficulties”, he said.
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A DFA spokesman said a “significant group” of Irish citizens was travelling from Australia through London on Wednesday while another group would travel through Qatar on Thursday.
“The situation is no longer as simple as rescue flights, we need permission to enter airspace and regions on the way back to Ireland, ” the spokesman said.
“We need to continue to take every seat possible on commercial flights in the coming days. We know this is very stressful for those abroad and their families here but we are leaving no stone unturned in trying to get people home.”
Barry Corr, chief executive of the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce, has set up an online “webinar series” to inform Irish people stuck in Australia of their best travel, visa and financial options. He has been contacted by 1,042 Irish people so far, the vast majority of whom are in Sydney.
While some of these are tourists, a growing number of Irish citizens on working visas who have lost their jobs are trying to get back to Europe, Mr Corr said. “You’ve got a lot of temporary workers here on multi-year working visas and their opportunity to earn has disappeared almost overnight.”
Mr Corr is sharing data with Qatar Airways regarding the number of Irish people trying to get home but hastens to add that he does not represent the Government or an airline. “We can’t repatriate people but we did have the chance to inform the airline. Qatar is one of our corporate members and they’re really trying to pull out all the stops to be as much of an assistance as possible.”
Colm Cahill, who spoke to the Irish Times about being stranded in a hostel in Melbourne, has used a Facebook page he set up to gather data on Irish stranded in Australia, which he hopes can be used to help get people home. It includes information on people’s location, what type of visa they hold and their healthcare needs.
The vast majority of those who have contacted the page are on working holiday visas while smaller numbers are on holiday or student visas, Mr Cahill said.
“Several people are messaging saying they are down to their last few dollars or have no income of savings left,” he told The Irish Times by email, adding that some people were at risk of outstaying their visa.
The Australian newspaper reported on Monday that “special welfare payments and visa extensions” would be offered to non-residents stranded in Australia who lose their jobs and are unable to return home.
It was reported the government was working on plan to include a form of support payment for temporary migrants who had lost their jobs in tourism and hospitality sectors.
Irish citizens abroad seeking urgent assistance are advised to called the DFA Covid-19 phone line between 7am-10pm (GMT) on +353 1 6131733, chat with their online team here and check for updates on their website or Twitter @dfatirl, @dfatravelwise and accounts of relevant embassies or consulates.