Belarus Denies Chernobyl Children Swiss Visit

Hundreds of Belarussian children suffering from radiation after the Chernobyl power plant disaster in Ukraine have been denied a visit to Switzerland.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko cancelled the trip after fearing some children would not want to come back home. The decision has angered Swiss organisers who say the youngsters are being used as political pawns.

For more than a decade, about 400 children from the eastern European country - aged between seven and 16 - have made an annual journey to Switzerland to receive medical treatment and social support.

They are all suffering from the effects of radiation that still lingers on in the region following the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in neighbouring Ukraine in 1986.

The charms of democratic freedom have proved irresistible to some of the visitors to western countries and two have claimed political asylum in recent years.

Although these cases did not take place in Switzerland, Lukashenko still demanded written guarantees that the Swiss would reject asylum seekers. When this demand was rejected, on the grounds it conflicted with human rights laws, Lukashenko stopped the visit.

< The children are very down and disappointed. There was hope for their health and that has now disappeared. > Andreas Goerlich-Koch



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