The trauma of youngsters wrongfully taken from their parents by officials reveals an entrenched prejudice
PETER POPHAM Author Biography THURSDAY 24 OCTOBER 2013 THE INDEPENDENT
Their blonde hair and blue eyes marked them as unusual, extraordinary even. And when authorities were alerted to their presence in Romany communities police acted swiftly, and incorrectly. But as the Irish police ombudsman began an investigation into the removal of two children, the family of one of the girls described how they had been left traumatised, and accused the police of racism.
In the first case, a seven-year-old girl was taken from her home in Dublin after a neighbour reported that the couple from Romania, who have lived in Ireland for 12 years, were dark while the daughter was blonde – like the blonde girl Maria in Greece whose case became a cause? célèbre a few days before. Subsequently a two-year-old boy was taken from his Romany parents’ home in Athlone for the same reason. The children were returned to their homes this week, after tests proved that they shared the same DNA as the adults who claimed to be their parents.
Romany is the neutral English term for the traditionally itinerant community, believed to be some 11 million strong, often known as Gypsies, who migrated from India to Europe via the Middle East in the 15th century.
An 18-year-old sister of the girl removed from her home in Dublin was indignant about the way the family had been treated, saying the whole family was traumatised, and accused the police of racism. “They took her just because she had blue eyes and blonde hair,” she said. “Most Romanian people have blue eyes. We were all traumatised. I used to be blonde when I was little, and my mum was blonde when she was little.”
Meanwhile police in Bulgaria have questioned a Bulgarian couple suspected of being the biological parents of Maria, the small blonde girl spotted by Greek police when they raided a Romany camp near Farsala, in central Greece. The couple in Greece, Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou, insist that the girl was given to them legitimately. They have been charged with child abduction.
The Greek case once again focused attention on a community which over the centuries has frequently suffered persecution at the hands of the settled people they call “Gajé”. The problem has become far more acute since the collapse of communism.
Under communism, in countries such as Hungary, Romanies were treated not as an ethnic minority with their own ways but as a social problem to be solved through forcible integration. They were forced to move into cheap public housing estates and to work in state-owned factories; generally they were found in the meanest housing and the lowliest jobs.
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