UK gates thrown open for `Chernobyl’ children

The agreement with Belarus to enable the UK charities to continue the good work 12 June 2009: Over 23 years after a nuclear reactor accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, the affected children will be able to visit the United Kingdom again on “charity-sponsored respite visits”.

The Government Thursday announced an agreement with the Government of Belarus, for the resumption of the visits.

The agreement will enable “highly worthwhile work” by the UK charities in this area to continue. In the years to come, many more children will be able to visit the United Kingdom to receive the benefits of a temporary period of rest and recuperation.

Borders and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said: “The UK Government has always been a strong supporter of respite care visits by those children from Belarus affected by the Chernobyl incident.

‘We’re pleased we’ve been able to reach an agreement with Belarus that allows these visits to resume, and remain in place for at least the next five years.

‘This agreement will enable UK charities to continue their worthwhile work, and for many more children to visit the UK for a temporary period of rest and recuperation.’

`The agreement, which came into force on 22 May, allows for the immediate resumption of visits by Belarusian children under the age of 14. It will remain in force for the next five years and will be automatically extended by five year periods thereafter.

Chernobyl-affected children have been travelling on respite holidays to the west since the early 1990s on free visas. In 1995, charging for visas was introduced in the region, with an exemption for Belarusian children affected by the Chernobyl disaster.

Bringing the children to the United Kingdom for recuperative visits is a large scale charity activity; there are approximately 47 charities registered to undertake the task.

A report prepared in 2005 by the Chernobyl Forum, led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and World Health Organization (WHO), had attributed 56 direct deaths, including 47 accident workers, and nine children with thyroid cancer.

The report had estimated there may be 4,000 extra cancer deaths among the approximately 600,000 most highly exposed people.

Although the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and certain limited areas remain off limits, the majority of affected areas are now considered safe for settlement and economic activity.

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