Publicity frees maimed boy from UK visa trap

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The Independent Online


The power of bad publicity should sweep Eldin Isovic, 13, from his Bosnian hospital bed to Britain for treatment for the injuries he suffered while playing with a grenade. He is blind and has pitifully thin stumps where his hands were. He needs reconstructive surgery to his eye sockets as soon as possible, plus the prosthetic hands, physiotherapy and rehabilitation that might ease his burden.

The doctors stood ready, the money was there, but Eldin was caught in the British visa trap. The Government insists that Bosnians apply for entry visas at the British embassy in Zagreb.

Perhaps coincidentally, that makes denying asylum to Bosnians that much easier, since applicants are already in a third country. Eldin and his father, Esad, could not travel to Zagreb and the embassy in Sarajevo does not issue visas.

But yesterday Eldin and another child, Jadranka Zelenovic, both scheduled for evacuation under a UN-sponsored programme run by Child Advocacy International, were granted exceptional visa waivers by London. As it happens, Eldin's case was aired on BBC Radio 4's Today programme yesterday and the Sun planned a follow-up campaign. Then came the change of heart.

"I'm told it was at ministerial level that the decision was made," said Dr Michael Plunkett of Child Advocacy. "My response is, 'Thank you - and what do we do about the next child we meet that has the same need for treatment?' "

His agency has seven other Sarajevan children approved by the UN for evacuation to Britain, not all war-wounded, but all in need of specialist treatment unheard of in war-time Bosnia that would significantly improve their quality of life. And all without the means to get a British visa.