25 September 2012

Chernobyl charity's outrage at UK visa change

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A charity set up to provide Ukrainian children a chance to visit Hampshire has launched an online petition to protest a UK visa change which will see the charity have to pay to bring the children over.

UK immigration

The 1986 Chernobyl disaster forced cities to be evacuated and the radioactive effects are still being felt 25 years on.

The Portsmouth and Hayling Island Link of the Chernobyl Children's Lifeline charity has been brining children affected by the Chernobyl disaster to the UK for a month at a time for over two decades, but could soon fall victim to a planned UK visa change.

As of next year, the charity will have to pay £86 per child to allow the children to stay and live with British families for a month at a time.

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant went into meltdown in 1986 and spewed out millions on tonnes of radioactive material into the atmosphere; the region has still not recovered.

Rob Baker, vice chairman of the charity, says the organisation will struggle to continue if the UK visa change comes into effect.

"The problems tend to be that we, as a group, have to raise £8,000 a year to bring 12 children over," said Mr Baker.

"If we have to pay for the visas, it's potentially another £1,000 on top.

"It's hard enough to raise £8,000 as it is, even with all the help we have. Everyone does it voluntarily. It seems to be unfair as the UK seems to be the only country doing this. The children are being penalised even though they have done nothing wrong here."

Marian Stapley, who also works with the charity and has been hosting children at her home for seven years says the children's trips are extremely valuable.

"It's an amazing experience for the children. They are all suffering from the effects of radiation and there's a chance they can develop thyroid cancer and leukaemia," said Ms Stapley.

"That's why we bring them over, for respite care. I would be gutted if we had to stop. It’s what keeps my family going."

A Government spokesperson defended the change.

"The Government has supported the visa project for the Chernobyl Children Charities for more than 16 years, helping thousands of children per year to travel to the UK for respite care. The many charities involved have done a fantastic job organising the trips over the years," said the spokesperson.

"In recent years we have had to make some very difficult spending decisions. Ministers decided in 2010 that the FCO-funded visa scheme would unfortunately end on March 31, 2013.

"We informed the charities of our decision in November 2010. Our intention was to allow them plenty of time to seek alternative sources of funding. We have offered to work with them to do this.

"The charities will continue to have access to visas under a Memorandum of Understanding agreed with the UK Border Agency. This ensures the proper safeguards are in place but also provides a facilitated service for the charities."

You can sign the e-petition to prevent the change here.


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