My honourable friend the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration (Phil Woolas) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Government are today announcing the conclusion of an agreement between the United Kingdom and the Government of Belarus in respect of the travel of children affected by the Chernobyl incident to the United Kingdom on charity-sponsored respite visits.
On 13 October 2008 President Lukashenko of Belarus issued a decree which suspended permission for children affected by the Chernobyl incident to travel abroad for respite visits. Since this date the UK Border Agency and the British ambassador in Minsk have been in close contact with the Belarusian Government to negotiate an agreement to see this ban lifted in respect of children travelling to the United Kingdom. The Belarus request that the United Kingdom should enter into such a written agreement was not related to any specific concerns in relation to previous United Kingdom visits.
The agreement, which entered 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.
The agreement will enable the highly worthwhile work by UK charities in this area to continue and for many thousands more children to visit the United Kingdom in the years to come and to receive the benefits of a temporary period of rest and recuperation.