4:09pm Monday 9th June 2014
Exclusive By Emma Rigby
A HOLIDAY of a lifetime aimed at helping child victims of the Chernobyl disaster would have been cancelled had the Home Secretary not stepped in to sort out a foul-up over their visas.
Theresa May - at the centre of a bruising bout of political infighting with Education Secretary Michael Gove – acted after pleas for help from Wirral MPs.
Nineteen children from Belarus were due to arrive in the borough on May 28 for a month’s recuperation away from the radiation still present since the nuclear disaster more than 25 years ago.
But the annual trip - organised by the Wirral Link, part of Chernobyl Children’s Life Line (CCLL) – was put on hold when the children were refused permission to travel after their visas were sent to Moscow instead of Belarus following the closure of a border agency office.
It was only when Birkenhead MP Frank Field and Wallasey MP Angela Eagle put pressure on the Home Secretary that the children were allowed access to the UK.
Sue Riley, from CCLL, told the Globe: “The charity’s founder, Victor Mizzi, asked us to put pressure on our local MPs and ask the Home Secretary to intervene and get them released to travel.
"We only found out late on Friday night that they would be able to get here the next morning.
“It was quite upsetting for the children and distressing for the host families who had bought clothes and decorated bedrooms ready for their arrival.
“We’re so grateful to Frank Field and Angela Eagle for their help.”
Mr Field said: “I was happy to intervene on behalf of this important charity.
“One call to the Home Secretary’s private office resulted in the visas being issued once CRB checks were through.”
On April 26, 1986, a failed experiment at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in Ukraine set fire to the reactor core and blew the top off the building.
The wind carried the radiation cloud north over the border into Belarus where more than 60% of the radiation fell.
The ground was heavily contaminated and will continue to be so for thousands of years.
Children are particularly susceptible to radiation induced illnesses and many have leukaemia, cancer of the thyroid and other cancers.
The children – aged between seven and 10 - are now settling in with their host families but their month-long break from the radiation in a bid to boost their health has now been reduced to just three weeks.
Sue said: “Many children become ill as they progress into their teens and a month away from the radiation can give their immune system a significant boost and improve their health.
“They’ve only got three weeks here now as we couldn’t extend the trip – the radiation drips out of them quite quickly but they need that month to really build up their immune system so it’s a shame for the kids to only be here for three weeks.”
The children and two leaders will enjoy a variety of activities during their stay including a ferry trip across the Mersey to the Echo Arena.
They will also visit the Blue Planet Aquarium and Blackpool Pleasure Beach as well as enjoying ice skating, bowling and a picnic on Hilbre Island.
As well as giving the children a holiday they will never forget, the charity – which has a shop in King Street, Wallasey – has also provided them with clothing and footwear.
Sue added: “We have been really overwhelmed by the amount of clothing people have donated – thank you.”
Any donations can be dropped off at the Wirral Link, 34 King Street, Wallasey.
HOME SECRETARY ROW:
Theresa May is to be hauled before a committee of MPs to face questions over what she knew about a damaging letter said to be leaked by her closest aide to undermine Michael Gove.
The Home Secretary – seen as a Tory leadership contender – will be asked about her role in the "unseemly" public feud with the Education Secretary over how Islamist extremism is tackled in schools.
She will be asked about any personal involvement in the release of a letter she wrote to Mr Gove raising concerns about his department’s response to allegations of a plot by Muslim hardliners in Birmingham.
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