This year was an exceptionally busy one for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in providing assistance to Irish nationals overseas. The Department had to respond to crisis situations in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria as well as to the earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan. The fact that a number of these occurred at the same time, and included countries where Ireland has no Embassy or diplomatic presence, posed particular challenges in helping Irish citizens and their families who found themselves in difficulty.
The Department’s Crisis Centre and help-lines were open to the public for a period of two months in February and March 2011. Hundreds of Irish citizens and their families were advised, assisted and helped to leave these areas of conflict or natural disaster. The Department is continuing to monitor the security situation in a number of countries, particularly Syria and Egypt.
In addition to these events, the Department assisted almost 1,500 Irish citizens following serious consular emergencies overseas, including deaths, arrests, kidnaps, accidents, child abductions and hospitalisations.
While Consular assistance was provided to Irish citizens in virtually every country in the world, by far the highest number of consular emergencies occurred in Spain, followed by Australia, the USA, Britain, Thailand, France, Portugal, Poland, Turkey, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Greece and the United Arab Emirates.
This year the Department provided consular assistance to the families of almost 200 people who died abroad. The Department also dealt with nearly 300 cases of arrest, as well as a number of child abduction cases.
While the Department does everything it can to assist Irish nationals in difficulty abroad, it emphasises that the Department’s assistance is not a substitute for the purchase of private and comprehensive medical and travel insurance. “All travellers should obtain appropriate insurance to avoid the burden placed on families in the unfortunate event of an accident or incident abroad,” it says. “Those travelling within the EU, Switzerland, or the European Economic Area, should obtain a free European Health Insurance card from the local health authority, at ehic.ie.
“The Department urges Irish citizens thinking of travelling abroad in the year ahead, either on holiday or to work, to plan in advance and always keep their safety in mind. They should ensure that their passports are up-to-date and take note of the contact details of the relevant Irish Embassy for the country where they are visiting. The Department’s booklet, “Travel Safely – Slán Abhaile”, provides practical tips on how to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit overseas.
“Irish nationals abroad are also urged to register online with their local Embassy or Consulate. This voluntary registration is invaluable and enables the Department to stay in touch with Irish nationals on a large scale, particularly with those travelling in remote or challenging places.
We also encourage those travelling abroad to consult our country specific travel advice. All of these services are available through the ‘Services to the Public’ section of Department’s website.”