It is heart wrenching that we do not yet have a signed agreement with Belarus for health respites abroad. Reaching out to other needy children who are living under the shadow of the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, can be just as rewarding as the bonds you have made with the Belarusian youth. The groundwork is laid and the Ukrainian children are waiting for their chance to go abroad. Heidi Dietz, who is heading up the Ukraine Program for CofCUSA, put together this video that shows opportunities to help the youth in Ukraine. For more information, contact her at childrenofchernobyl[dot]friend[at]Verizon[dot]com.
The question of extending private invitations to the Belarusian minor children has been surfacing and the Alliance is being asked by organization leaders what the problems/issues of doing this would be. We have been sorting out this question by making many contacts and have received varied responses. This information was used to formulate the following position statement on this issue:
CofCUSA strongly suggests that organization leaders respect the Belarus rule of law (Decree 555) and the U.S. Department of State’s request to not be involved in extending private invitations. Here are the reasons why:
- The Department of State is working on behalf of our collective organizations to get an agreement put in place. DofS gets nothing out of this Agreement; it is solely being done for the Chernobyl children organizations. They have asked us to not bring children as they continue to work on a resolution. They, too, have political issues to deal with apart from ours.
- A Belarus government representative has basically asked us to obey their Decree, reminding us that the suspension has not been lifted, nor has an agreement been signed.
- Our primary Belarus NGO’s are not involved with providing assistance and have expressed their concern.
- We recognize that a host family may say “I’m going to do it anyway!” By your getting involved and assisting that family, you can very possibly put your organization in jeopardy for future involvement as well as the whole U.S. program. We strongly urge your organization to have no part in facilitating this effort by assisting or encouraging any of the families to take this step.
- And finally, for those who have a true calling to continue a respite program, thereby helping a child who is living under the shadow of the Chernobyl disaster, the groundwork is laid clear, and Ukrainian children in need are waiting.
We are continuing to press the U.S. Department of State to formulate a response to the Belarus government’s last response to them five months ago. I hope that you have written your Congressional letters to ask for some action to be taken on the health respite abroad agreement.
Let me know if I can answer any questions regarding this ongoing dilemma.
It has been our goal from the beginning of the non-return incident last year, to keep all organization leaders informed on the status of the international agreement for health recuperation abroad. These patient and dedicated leaders have distributed this information and kept their constituencies up to date. We continue, however, to receive inquiries regarding the future of the summer hosting program from interested individuals in the US and from abroad as well. This blog will be used to report the status quo on this topic as well as other CofCUSA news items. We welcome your comments with each post.
Today I was able to speak with US Department of State personnel regarding the status of the health recuperation abroad agreement. Good news….Joe told me that their draft response to the Belarus proposal was finalized and will be given to Belarus officials. Now, the wait begins for their response to it.
We also discussed needing some indication by September whether there is going to be a US/Belarus health respite program next summer; or, if organizations need to move on to preserve their organizations and constituencies.
In trying to assist a leader recently with two children with medical problems, I was in conversation with the Consular Division of the US Embassy in Minsk. I wanted to share a response I received that I thought was appropriate for all of us to think about as they, along with DofS, continue to negotiate with the Belarusian authorities on behalf of our summer programs:
“Without a bilateral agreement signed yet regarding the Chernobyl’s Children programs, we do not want to jeopardize the long-term future of the program by doing anything that may look to the Belarusian government like manipulating the format to continue programs essentially identical to those run in the framework of Chernobyl’s Children. As much as we understand and appreciate the assistance your organizations provide to the Belarusian children, unfortunately, I do not recommend them to apply for visas this year. As before, we are continuing to work together with our colleagues in Washington towards an agreement and will certainly be in touch as soon as we reach one.”