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Government received over 20,000 queries from Irish citizens abroad during Covid-19 pandemic

Irish government spent €890,000 on flights to repatriate citizens from Peru, India and Nigeria this year.

Terminal of Lima airport, 3 February.
Terminal of Lima airport, 3 February.
Image: DPA/PA Images

THE IRISH GOVERNMENT received over 20,000 queries from Irish citizens abroad, and spent almost €900,000 on repatriation flights from Peru, India and Nigeria at the height of the Covid-19 crisis.

Figures released under a Freedom of Information request to TheJournal.ie and other news outlets show that the Irish government spent €889,800 on flights to repatriate citizens from Lima in Peru, Goa/New Delhi in India, and Lagos in Nigeria.

In total, 93 people were returned from Lima, 68 from Goa/New Dehli, and 95 from Lagos at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when many flights were suddenly cancelled, leaving some citizens stranded.

The FOI released to TheJournal.ie also showed that as of 9 July, the Department of Foreign Affairs’ dedicated centre for travel queries related to Covid-19 had received over 13,000 calls and engaged in 5,000 webchats.

The countries from which the top 10 highest volume of queries came were the UK (1,619), the US (878), Australia (859), Spain (741), France (282), Germany (241), New Zealand (215), Italy (185), Poland (173) and the Netherlands (164).

There were also a significant number of calls from Portugal (163), Nigeria (159), and Canada (139).

This is in addition to the thousands of calls received by Irish missions overseas from citizens in distress or seeking advice.

‘More complex’ queries in Cabhair

The Department said that it also received a number of queries related to Covid-19 through its case management system called Cabhair (the Irish word for ‘help’) to record queries which require “more complex and sustained forms” of consular assistance.

Although officials are continuing to collate data, as of 8 July, there were approximately 7,548 cases recorded for the year-to-date in Cabhair. Of these, approximately 90% were primarily Covid-19 related, the Department said.

In general, half of the assistance provided was specifically concerned with repatriating to Ireland. The other half was on immigration, health, medical support and other issues relating to return.

The purpose of the Cabhair system is to ensure that all information related to a consular case is stored and accessed, in compliance with GDPR, by case officers assisting Irish citizens.

The Department stressed that the system “has no way to identify” a caller’s occupation or the detail of what advice was requested unless each of the thousands of files are read individually with a manual record kept of the detail.

While responding to hundreds of flights being cancelled in March as countries closed borders in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19, the Irish government said that it was leaving “no stone unturned” to return Irish citizens stranded in countries around the world.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said at the time that “we are witnessing the biggest shutdown in global aviation since the dawn of commercial flight”.

What we have seen in recent days is not only countries, but entire regions, close off airspace and ground airlines at short notice.

“We have never seen anything like it before, it eclipses the shutdowns following the September 11th attacks and the volcanic ash crisis.The situation is fast-moving and volatile,” it said.

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Where in the world?

The number of queries received from Irish citizens is broken down by country, below. 

  • Afghanistan 7
  • Albania 8
  • Algeria 11
  • Andorra 2
  • Angola 4
  • Antigua and Barbuda 5
  • Argentina 60
  • Armenia 1
  • Australia 859
  • Austria 41
  • Azerbaijan 2
  • Bahamas 2
  • Bahrain 1
  • Bangladesh 14
  • Barbados 7
  • Belarus 5
  • Belgium 89
  • Bolivia 10
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina 2
  • Brazil 52
  • Bulgaria 11
  • Burkina Faso 1
  • Cabo Verde 1
  • Cambodia 10
  • Cameroon 10
  • Canada 139
  • Central African Republic 1
  • Chile 18
  • China 53
  • Colombia 9
  • Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) 8
  • Costa Rica 2
  • Cote d’Ivoire 2
  • Croatia 40
  • Cuba 8
  • Cyprus 15
  • Czech Republic 24
  • Democratic Republic of Congo 2
  • Denmark 30
  • Dominican Republic 9
  • Ecuador 2
  • Egypt 10
  • El Salvador 1
  • Equatorial Guinea 3
  • Estonia 4
  • Ethiopia 4
  • Fiji 2
  • Finland 10
  • France 282
  • Gabon 2
  • Gambia 1
  • Georgia 3
  • Germany 241
  • Ghana 13
  • Greece 31
  • Grenada 2
  • Guatemala 1
  • Guinea 2
  • Guinea-Bissau 1
  • Honduras 7
  • Hungary 25
  • Iceland 2
  • India 127
  • Indonesia 22
  • Iran 1
  • Iraq 12
  • Ireland 5,136
  • Israel 6
  • Italy 185
  • Jamaica 7
  • Japan 31
  • Jordan 2
  • Kazakhstan 4
  • Kenya 2
  • Kuwait 7
  • Kyrgyzstan 1
  • Laos 6
  • Latvia 19
  • Lebanon 3
  • Lithuania 19
  • Luxembourg 10
  • Malaysia 10
  • Maldives 7
  • Mali 1
  • Malta 22
  • Mauritius 6
  • Mexico 37
  • Moldova 11
  • Monaco 1
  • Mongolia 2
  • Montenegro 1
  • Morocco 27
  • Mozambique 2
  • Myanmar 1
  • Namibia 1
  • Nepal 9
  • Netherlands 164
  • New Zealand 215
  • Nicaragua 4
  • Niger 1
  • Nigeria 159
  • North Macedonia 2
  • Norway 9
  • Oman 1
  • Pakistan 43
  • Panama 4
  • Papua New Guinea 1
  • Peru 83
  • Philippines 37
  • Poland 173
  • Portugal 163
  • Qatar 12
  • Romania 48
  • Russia 11
  • Rwanda 3
  • Saint  Lucia 1
  • Samoa 1
  • Saudi Arabia 20
  • Senegal 3
  • Serbia 6
  • Seychelles 1
  • Singapore 9
  • Slovakia 16
  • Slovenia 4
  • Somalia 1
  • South Africa 102
  • South Korea 5
  • Spain 741
  • Sri Lanka 6
  • Sudan 8
  • Sweden 41
  • Switzerland 62
  • Syria 2
  • Tanzania 10
  • Thailand 117
  • Togo 1
  • Trinidad and Tobago 3
  • Tunisia 4
  • Turkey 30
  • Uganda 4
  • Ukraine 15
  • UAE 77
  • UK 1,619
  • US 878
  • Uruguay 5
  • Venezuela 3
  • Vietnam 47
  • Zambia 2
  • Zimbabwe 10
  • Information not provided 439

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