Another blond girl removed from Roma family, this time in Ireland

MGN
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - 2:17pm

DUBLIN, Ireland (CNN) -- The Roma couple from whom a 7-year-old girl was removed by Irish police said Wednesday that they have given DNA samples to authorities and hope to be reunited with their daughter soon.

Police say they're not convinced the blond girl belongs to the family she lived with in the Dublin suburb of Tallaght. The girl, who was removed from them Monday, is now in the care of social services.

The Roma mother and father told CNN they are due to appear in court at 5 p.m. local time (12 p.m. ET) on Wednesday.

They said that they have a passport for the the girl, but that they did not call her by the name on the passport.

The couple, who appeared to be very upset by the situation, also showed CNN photos of the girl, a fair-haired, blue-eyed child.

Few other details have been made public about the girl in Ireland. But the situation echoes a similar case in Greece that has grabbed the attention of authorities and parents around the world.

Greek authorities say a girl believed to be 5 to 6 years old may have been abducted by a Roma couple there. Authorities have charged the couple with abducting the child they call Maria.

But that girl's DNA didn't match any profile in Interpol's database, the international law enforcement agency said Tuesday.

Interpol said Greek authorities have asked for its help in finding out Maria's identity. "Until now, a comparison of the girl's profile against Interpol's global DNA database has not produced a match," Interpol said in a news release.

Interpol said it would make the database available to authorities in countries where someone who claims to be a possible blood relative to the child has submitted a DNA profile.

The agency has more than 600 missing people listed on its website, 32 of whom are 5 or 6 years old.

A spokesman for a Greek children's charity said about 10 cases of missing children around the world are "being taken very seriously" in connection with Maria's case.

"They include children from the United States, Canada, Poland and France," said Panagiotis Pardalis of the Smile of the Child charity.

The couple who had Maria until last week, Eleftheria Dimopoulou, 40, and Christos Salis, 39, appeared in court Monday. Both were remanded into custody pending trial.

A lawyer for the couple says the pair adopted the child from her biological mother.

The Smile of the Child said the girl, who was found Thursday in a Roma community near Larissa, in central Greece, is being cared for in a group home.

Suspicions of false documents

Police have said they suspect records that the couple provided for Maria and for other children in their care may be false. In addition to the abduction charge, the couple is accused of falsifying official documents.

Four authorities, including the head of the registry office that issued Maria's birth certificate, have been suspended while a police investigation is under way, the media office of the Athens municipality said Tuesday.

The girl received the document this year, it said. It is unusual for a birth certificate to be issued years later.

Authorities asked questions about Maria because she has fair skin and blond hair, while her parents have darker complexions typical of Roma, a race descended from Indian nomads, who face widespread discrimination in Europe.

Haralambos Dimitriou, head of the local Roma community, said the couple took in the girl because her Bulgarian mother couldn't keep her. He said Maria was raised like a "normal" child.

Pardalis said Sunday that she was found in "bad living conditions, poor hygiene."

Could 'Maria' be an American girl?

Thousands of calls poured into Greece after authorities released photos of the girl last week.

Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin, whose daughter Lisa Irwin was 11 months old when she vanished two years ago from their home in Kansas City, Missouri, asked the FBI to contact Greek authorities about the case.

"There is no such thing as a tip too small," said Bradley, whose hopes were raised despite the apparent disparity in age between their missing daughter and Maria.

A federal law enforcement official said the FBI is working with Greek authorities to determine whether the girl could be Lisa Irwin.

A top official with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in Virginia said the center works with law enforcement groups to collect data, biometrics information and DNA that can be used to compare with samples from Maria.

"Frankly, right now ... it does not appear that this may be any of our children. But again we want to confirm one way or the other," said Robert Lowery, the senior executive director of the organization's missing children division.

He added that a definitive comparison could be done "rather quickly."

Interest has popped up elsewhere

In Canada, a spokeswoman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Interpol had contacted its Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains to help identify the girl, though there was no information that she is Canadian.

"We are going through the files that we have and we are developing a list of possible children that could meet that criteria," Sgt. Lana Prosper said. "We are currently looking at an age range of about 2 to 8 years old, we don't want to exclude anybody. The files we currently have to look through number in the thousands, but they include boys as well."

Once that number has been narrowed, police will contact local authorities to assist if needed, she said.

Police: Couple kept changing story

Authorities released photos of the two adults charged Monday in the case in hopes that the publicity would reach someone who can provide more information about them.

A police statement said the couple "changed repeatedly their story about how they got the child."

"I used to see the mother, she would come to the square here to beg with the child," a man in the Larissa region told the Reuters news agency. "At one point, I had asked her how she got such a blond angel. She told me she had conceived it with a blond man."

Prejudice against the Roma

Prejudice and discrimination against the Roma are widespread in Greece and elsewhere in Europe, Amnesty International says.

Maria's case plays into old prejudices about them stealing children for forced labor.

Pardalis mentioned such a possibility, saying, "We don't have any other information if this girl was forced to work or to beg on streets."

The government news agency also raised "the possibility of the existence of a ring bringing pregnant women to Greece from Bulgaria and then taking their children for sale." The agency cited past reports that empty coffins had been found for infants who supposedly were stillborn to foreign mothers in Athens.

-- CNN's Erin McLoughlin reported from Dublin and Elinda Labropoulou from Athens, while Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN's Andrew Carey, Lindsay Isaac, Holly Yan, Erin McLaughlin, Carol Cratty and George Howell contributed to this report.

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