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8 Sep, 2008 11:48

Belarus accuses U.S. host family of 'kidnapping' teen

Belarus accuses U.S. host family of 'kidnapping' teen

The Belarusian government has accused an American family of kidnapping their teenage daughter after the girl failed to return home from an exchange programme. The 16 year old sparked a diplomatic row, and placed the whole project in jeopardy, after she re

Tanya Kazyra was on her ninth visit to the U.S.  family as part of the Chernobyl Children’s Project. But the trouble began in August when she decided she didn't want to return to her home country. Instead, she applied for a student visa to go to school in California and stay with her 'host family' indefinitely.
The Belarusian government has responded furiously and suspended all future exchange programmes of this kind. The country typically sends thousands of children from regions affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to Europe and the United States each year .

The Belarusian accusation of kidnap has been echoed by many Americans. Other host families picketed the host family’s house and demanded to speak with the girl.

According to the LA Times, Belarusian diplomats offered the girl a free house and college education in her homeland in a bid to lure her back. Even so, she refused to budge.

Nothing like this has happened since the programme began in 1991, according to a Children of Chernobyl U.S. Alliance spokesperson.

“We're not trying to rescue these children from any family condition in their home country,” Cecilia Calhoun said. “This family knew the rules. They made a conscious decision to break them. And it's harming the programme.”

The Irish government, which invites over a thousand children every year to stay with families as part of the same project, has already launched a “full scale diplomatic effort” in an attempt to make Ireland exempt from the ban on home-stay programmes with Belarus. The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, has planned meetings with Belarussian diplomatic officials to try to resolve the issue.