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Chernobyl: Children

Volume 464: debated on Friday 19 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with (a) the Secretary of State for the Home Department and (b) others on assisting the travel of Chernobyl-affected children to the UK for rest and recuperation; what effect the operation of biometric visas will have on the case of such travel; and if he will make a statement. (158550)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has not held any recent discussions with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on this matter, but officials propose to hold a stakeholder meeting in the very near future at which these issues will be raised.

The Government recognise the value and benefit of allowing children who have been affected by Chernobyl to visit the UK for respite care. This is an important programme and we will continue to support the charitable work both in the UK and Belarus that facilitates these visits. In consultation with the charities we are actively looking for ways to minimise any difficulties that the introduction of biometrics might create. We had sought to establish a seasonal visa application centre (VAC) in Gomel Oblast through our commercial partner, Visa Facilitation Services (VFS). This would have provided a more convenient visa application point and a shorter journey for some of these children. Unfortunately, we have not been able to secure permission from the Belarus Government to allow our commercial partner to operate. Those living in southern Belarus might find it easier to travel to the VAC in Kiev, Ukraine to lodge their applications. Our embassy in Kiev will make the necessary arrangements to cater for individuals or groups.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has received from (a) the Government of Belarus, (b) UK charities and (c) others on the entry into the UK of Chernobyl-affected children; and if he will make a statement. (158552)

I have received representations from the ambassador of Belarus, the Chernobyl Children’s Project, the Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline and several hon. Members. I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave him today (UIN 158550).