secret flight | 

59 kids from Chernobyl stranded at Dublin Airport as Tusla did not know they were coming

Child protection officers at the airport refused to grant entry visas for 59 children classed as “unaccompanied minors”

Children arriving at Dublin airport from Chernobyl yesterday. Photo: Karen Cox

Eavan Murray

Scores of children evacuated from Chernobyl by an Irish charity were left stranded at Dublin Airport as Tusla, the State’s child and family agency, were not made aware of their arrival.

Child protection officers at the airport refused to grant entry visas for 59 children classed as “unaccompanied minors” until vital child protection screening was carried out.

The group of 59 children aged between four and 17 years old were among 113 children evacuated by Mayo-based charity Candle of Grace.

The children had been in transit since Sunday and arrived in Dublin, having boarded a Ryanair flight from Poland yesterday morning.

The charity has been supporting Ukrainian refugees and providing aid directly to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February.

The charity’s founder Lily Luzan, a Belarusian national whose birthplace was directly affected by the 1986 nuclear power plant explosion, planned the whole operation to bring the children to Mayo for an initial three-month period.

Speaking from Dublin Airport, Ms Luzan acknowledged she did not inform Tusla of the arrival of the children due to safety concerns. She said: “We were just on a mission to get them here safely. My heart and my head were there (Chernobyl) all the time.

“They all have legal paperwork. Everything was done, and it was OK. The problem is that we didn’t tell them (Tusla), and they weren’t aware that a big group was coming.

“We had to do this work to bring them here secretly – for safety reasons.

“There were 78 children on their way to us, and (the day before) the bridge out of town was bombed, and they couldn’t come.

“I was worried I was being listened to by the KGB.

“Tusla said with such a great amount of children; ‘You have to tell us.’ I told them I had to work secretly, and I couldn’t say anything until they were in safety.

“From my point of view, we had smaller groups come before, and when we arrived, then we go to the Department of Justice.”

Yesterday morning, the charity flew 91 Ukrainian children to Dublin from Poland.

They arrived on a flight ­subsidised by Ryanair.

While some children were accompanied by their parents or guardians, 59 were classed as unaccompanied minors.

A spokesperson for Tusla confirmed there was an ongoing situation at Dublin Airport.

“Tusla is aware of the arrival of an organisation at Dublin Airport today with a number of children/young people from Chernobyl.

“Throughout the ongoing crisis, Tusla staff have and continue to be on-site in the Dublin Airport Ukraine Crisis Response Centre.

“As with all people arriving to the centre, we are responding appropriately and as quickly as possible.”

An official source close to the situation told the Irish Independent the situation represented a significant challenge for child protection for officials at the airport.

“We were not aware in any capacity they were arriving until we were informed they were already at the airport.

“Unaccompanied minors – travelling without a parent or guardian – obviously, all have to be screened for child protection reasons.

“So anybody that comes in as underage in that context needs to be put through that screening process, so we are satisfied there are no child protection issues.

“We have a very clear and established system at Dublin Airport.”

Buses chartered to transfer the children and their parents to three hotels in Mayo waited for up to 10 hours.

All the children were finally granted entry visas.

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