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Family tragedy leaves Irish couple caught up in Aussie travel ban

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

A sudden death in the family has left an Irish couple stuck overseas with no idea when they will be able to return to their home in Sydney.

A sudden death in the family has left an Irish couple stuck overseas with no idea when they will be able to return to their home in Sydney.

It was on March 22 that Aoife, 30, received a devastating phone call with news that her 25-year-old sister, who suffered from epilepsy, had died.

Amid the international chaos created by the coronavirus pandemic, the mental health care worker - who is almost six months pregnant - and her fiancé Shaun immediately began trying to book a flight back to Dublin to be with her family. 

"We had to get home to Aoife's parents and her brother and sister, we couldn't just sit there after what happened, family is the most important," Shaun said.

But airlines were cancelling flights by the minute and the list of countries shutting down their borders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was getting longer and longer.

Aoife and her fiance Shaun have been living in Australia for four years.

Just two days earlier, Prime Minister Scott Morrison had closed Australia's borders, only allowing citizens and permanent residents to return home.

"We flew with Qantas, we had to pay $13,000 to fly back to Dublin because business was the only last-minute option," Shaun said.

"At the check-in desk we were told Qantas would cease all flights in the next few days. We were lucky to get through Singapore on the way home."

Shaun said he and Aoife had realised it could be hard for them to return back to Sydney after the funeral, but they had no idea how uncertain their future was about to become.

The couple, along with thousands of other temporary visa holders, has now been barred from re-entering Australia under the travel ban.


Shaun said he and his fiancée considered Australia home after living here for four years on skilled visas and their lives were now in limbo waiting to hear about when they would be able to return.

"We have put our heart and soul into building our lives in Australia over the past four years," he said.

"Everything we possess is in our home in Sydney, our pet cat and brand new car we purchased last year. We are still paying $3000 a month for a property we are not able to access," he said.

Adding to the stress was Aoife's pregnancy, Shaun said.

"Our obstetrician and hospital are in Sydney. Her doctors have advised it is unsafe for her to travel on long distance flights too late into the pregnancy so time is not really on our side," he said.

"We need to get back to continue our planned scans and appointments. All our private health insurance is only valid to us in Australia."

Shaun said he had applied for an exemption to the travel ban, providing letters from both his and Aoife's employers, as well as their obstetrician, but their application was rejected.

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There are some 2.17 million people living in Australia on temporary visas. It is not known how many of these people were overseas when the borders were closed.

As reported by last week, an online petition has been started calling on skilled workers to be allowed to return to Australia.

The petition has now attracted more than 10,000 signatures from expats stuck overseas who say the Australian government is yet to even acknowledge their plight.

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Temporary visa holders in Australia who urgently needed to travel overseas have told that the ban was also putting them in a position where they were forced to make terrible choices.

US citizen Robin Cabral is living in Mollymook, on the NSW South Coast, with her partner, having applied for a partner visa a year ago.

Robin Cabral is living in Australia with her partner Jimmy on a temporary visa. She applied for a partner visa a year ago,a process which can now take more than two years as a result of COVID-19 delays.

Ms Cabral had been planning to fly back to Massachusetts to be with her ill and elderly mother on March 26, however Qantas cancelled the flight.

The US state has been hard hit by COVID-19, with the third highest number of cases in the country at 77,000.

Ms Cabral said she was concerned about her mother who has chronic lung disease, emphysema and early stage Parkinson's.

"We're in a hot spot, and I lost my aunt my this weekend. She caught the virus and ended up passing away," Ms Cabral said.

"So my mum is really not in a safe spot right now."

Ms Cabral said she had still been planning to fly back to the US when more flights became available.

It was only last week that she found out through her immigration lawyer that she would not be able to return to Australia if she flew to the US.

"I didn't realise how dramatic this would get. Up until last week, I thought that I could go home and come back," she said.

"Then when we emailed the immigration attorney they said there is pretty much no way that you are going to leave and come back."

Ms Cabral said she was now being forced to choose between staying in Australia with her partner, or going to the US to be with her mum.

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"These are the kinds of choices that we are being forced to make. What do you do, when you are stuck between two lives?"

In response to's request for comment, the Department of Home Affairs referred to remarks made by Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge in a media briefing on April 29.

Mr Tudge confirmed Australia's borders remained closed to all but citizens or permanent residents.

In some cases, exceptions could be granted, he said.

"There are exceptional circumstances for compassionate reasons, in terms of diplomats and others who may be able to get an exemption granted by the Australian Border Force commissioner, who we have delegated to have that power. However, the borders are closed," he said.

Mr Tudge said it was still uncertain when the borders would reopen.

"We're a country built on migration and we'll continue to be a country built on migration. Immigrants have literally built our country and they're so important to our society and our economy. But it's too early to say just yet when we might be able to open those borders," he said.

Contact reporter Emily McPherson at

Source: 9News

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