An Irish couple stranded in a hostel in Australia say they have spent nearly €5,000 on flights homes only to have them both cancelled.
Colm Cahill (aged 25) and his girlfriend Andrea Treacy are currently in a hostel in Melbourne and say they are not the only Irish in the same predicament.
They have been working and traveling in the country since last October but were monitoring the Covid-19 situation in recent weeks.
On St Patrick’s Day they realised it was time to make a move when friends messaged from all over the world to say their cities were in lockdown.
Colm said: “All the messages were lockdown, lockdown and I walked through Melbourne and people were partying like there was no tomorrow and pubs were full.”
“We said it was time to go home, there are too many people here living life to the full and not listening to the guidelines given by the government.”
They booked flights last week and at the same time got notice that their work places were closing. “We said we are about to lose our jobs, we are ready to go home.”
The first airline they booked with cost €800 each and they relaxed believing they would be home this week.
Within hours the airline cancelled the flight and said they would instead provide a travel voucher "when it was feasible".
Colm, from Birr, said a lot of panic set in and some people paid large sums for flight.
With his girlfriend Andrea, from Rathdowney, Co. Laois, he decided to wait a little while and looked at the option of renting a house.
He said: “We viewed houses but because of the situation everybody was looking for a six-month lease, deposit and rent up front and that is expensive when we are not working.”
They also risked losing their deposit if they did succeed in getting a flight home.
They booked another flight at a cost of €1600 each, “We went to sleep and woke up six hours later to an email to say the flight the cancelled.”
Believing they were not the only ones in this predicament he set up a Facebook group for the Irish trying to get home and within an hour had been contacted by hundreds of people.
Most people who responded to a poll he ran said they were in either Melbourne or Sydney and many of the Irish are on working holiday visas.
Colm and Andrea can afford to stay in the hostel for a while longer but are trying to get assistance from the Irish embassy and their TDs to get them home.
In his letter to the Embassy Colm said: ‘with the current global situation I understand everybody is vulnerable and in need. The situation for Irish visa holders in Australia has gotten extreme."
He described how flights are being cancelled every hour and their experience is "no sign of refunds for the foreseeable future".
We are stranded in a hostel having both recently lost our jobs.
He said the advice is to book a flight as soon as possible but "flights are currently going for 10000 dollars a piece".
"Airlines are taking money for essentially cancelled flights and then issuing flight vouchers. Most airlines have shut offices and unplugged phones."
Colm says that some of the Irish making contact via the Facebook page “are people commenting that their visas have or are soon to run out, that the last of their money has gone on flights that were cancelled and some that are calling out for a couch before they are stranded on streets.”
He said one woman said she had spent €4,000 on a flight that was cancelled, another had spent €3,000 borrowed from families for a third flight after two others were cancelled and her third booking was cancelled this morning.
He said it is also stressful for his family in Ireland.
They are concerned obviously and relieved to hear we booked a flight, so it was hard telling them it got cancelled. It was even harder the second time.
“A lot of our relatives and extended family have been in touch either directly to us or through them to offer support so that obviously means a lot, we're lucky to have that.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs has been asked to comment.