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New agreement signed to bring Chernobyl children here

According to The Irish Times, a new agreement with the Belarusian authorities permitting children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to stay with host families in Ireland was signed in Minsk yesterday.

The bilateral agreement means that travel restrictions imposed by Belarusian authorities last year have been lifted and that the 17-year tradition of visits by Chernobyl children to Ireland can recommence.

Dozens of charities run programmes in which some 2,500 children are brought to Ireland each year for holidays and rest and recuperation visits.

The Belarusian government announced last August, however, that it was outlawing such overseas visits after one child refused to return home following a trip to Italy.

A similar incident occurred last year in the US.

Negotiations between Ireland and Belarus on a treaty to regulate the visits opened in September, and an agreement was initiated in early December.

It was signed on behalf of Ireland by the Irish Ambassador to Belarus, Justin Harman, following the completion of procedures in Minsk.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheбl Martin, said he was delighted that months of detailed consultations and negotiations had resulted in a “very positive outcome”.

“I am very much aware of the tremendous contribution of Irish charities over the past 17 years to assisting Chernobyl children, and I am very pleased that this agreement will facilitate their ongoing work.”

Adi Roche of the Chernobyl Childrens Project International welcomed the “long-awaited news”.

“We are delighted that children can now travel unimpeded.

‘‘ It is unthinkable that had the ban stayed in force, the most vulnerable and fragile children would have remained in isolation and despair,” Ms Roche commented.

Catherine Varaksina


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