A CHARITY offering breaks for child victims of the Chernobyl disaster has been told it will no longer receive Government-funded visas – increasing costs by £800 a year.

The Friends of Chernobyl’s Children Northallerton brings groups of Belarus children aged between seven and 13 to the town every year to stay with host families for four weeks.

The 1986 catastrophe at the Ukraine nuclear power plant exposed surrounding countries to severe radiation, with residents in Belarus and Ukraine experiencing the brunt of the toxic waste which caused an increase in cancer and immune system diseases.

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The four week break offered by the charity allows children to boost their immune systems.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has funded visas for the children for the previous 16 years but has now told charity chairwoman Shirley Place she will have to find an extra £86 per visa from next year.

Ms Place said: “It’s very disappointing for us and it may mean we have to reduce the number of children we bring in future years.

“Fundraising is hard in the current economic climate and most of our costs are met by the generosity of local people and businesses as it is - this news has knocked us for six.

“Our problem in terms of seeking money from larger grant giving trusts and organisations is that time and time again we do not meet the criteria as we are not working directly with people in this country and are not working with the Belarusian children in their own country; we fall between two stools.”

Ms Place contacted William Hague MP appealing for help - but although Mr Hague said an offer to work with the charity remained the Government would not reconsider its decision.

He said: “In recent years we have had to make some difficult spending decisions and in November 2010 we informed charities of our decision to phase out the scheme by March 31 2013.

“Our intention in giving charities more than two years notice was to allow them plenty of time to find alternative funding.”

Ms Place added: “The charity targets children from Mogilev, Belarus, from disadvantaged backgrounds where the water they drink and food they eat is still contaminated.

“The break allows them to get fresh air, food and water.”

For more information on the charity contact Shirley Place on 01609-883708, 07941-614570 or shirleyplace@gmail.com.