Belarus ban on children travelling abroad 'shocking'


THE CHERNOBYL Children's Project International (CCPI) has described as "shocking" the news that the government of Belarus has imposed a ban on Chernobyl children travelling abroad.

The ban will affect children who travel to Ireland every year for medical assessment, treatment, rest and recuperation. It has been introduced following the controversy involving a Belarussian girl who refused to leave the US.

Tanya Kazyra (16) was on her ninth, and last, visit to a family in California when she failed to board the return flight from San Francisco on August 5th.

She told Associated Press last month: "I love my motherland and my grandmother. However, my life there is hard. And I have a family here."

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin will meet CCPI next Monday to discuss the issue. A spokesman for Mr Martin said the Irish Embassy in Moscow was fully aware of the problem and was talking to the Belarussian authorities.

CCPI chief executive Adi Roche said she would be appealing to Mr Martin to intervene in the name of the children. "Minister Martin has the power to seek an exemption for Ireland. We are begging the Minister to be the children's voice," she said.

She said the delegation would tell Mr Martin that the visits from Chernobyl were "medically and scientifically proven to be of great benefit for high-risk children. There are currently 500,000 children categorised as high risk in Belarus alone."

Her group has brought more than 17,000 children to Ireland for treatment and recuperation since 1991.

The Belarussian government imposed similar restrictions in 2004 but they were lifted within weeks after representations were made by governments, including the Irish Government.

"We cannot allow this to happen," Ms Roche said. "The children we're talking about are the most vulnerable, fragile in their society and their only hope and lifeline is their connection to their Irish 'families' and friends."

She said: "The tragedy of Chernobyl is already very low on the international agenda. This impending embargo will wipe it off the agenda altogether."

The controversy comes as RTE prepares to broadcast a documentary tonight. The Children Beyond Chernobyl will be screened on RTE 1 at 10.45pm.



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