Little Maria's Roma family wants her back

2013-10-26 22:01
Greek authorities have requested international assistance to identify the 4-year-old girl found living in a Gypsy camp. (Greek Police, AP)

Greek authorities have requested international assistance to identify the 4-year-old girl found living in a Gypsy camp. (Greek Police, AP)

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Gurkovo - The Bulgarian Roma family of Maria, wrongly thought to be an abducted western European child when she was found in Greece last week, wants her back but fears social services will keep her.

"Give us Maria! We will take her home and share our bread with her," her eldest sister Katia Ruseva said on Saturday in the central Bulgarian town of Gurkovo, where she lives with her husband and two children.

"We will not give her away for anything in the world," the 20-year-old said.

After she was found living with a Roma couple in a camp in Greece on 16 October, Maria's blond hair and green eyes were beamed on TV screens worldwide, making her a poster child for dozens of Western parents with missing children.

But on Friday DNA testing confirmed the parents of "the little blond angel" to be a Roma couple living in dire poverty in central Bulgaria.


The case revealed entrenched prejudice toward the Roma community and revived investigations into child trafficking but the girl's sister, who also has hay blond hair and freckles, insisted her parents did not sell Maria.

"I used to care for my eight brothers and sisters when my parents worked in Greece. When they came back, mum told me they had left a baby there. She did not have the money to pay for its passport," Katia said.

Her parents, Sasha Ruseva and Atanas Rusev, disappeared from their home in the nearby town of Nikolaevo on Friday morning, together with three of their children.

Police said they were still in Bulgaria and not under arrest.

Maria's mother had told Bulgarian media earlier that she would take her daughter back if the DNA results were positive. But she is now under investigation for allegedly selling her girl in 2009, when Maria was seven months old.

A neighbour of Katia's in Gurkovo, Nadka Chakarova, choked back tears as she remembered how failure to register her granddaughter Stanka when she was born in Greece had forced her to smuggle her over the border.

"We could have sold her, there were candidates who approached us in the hospital in Heraklion offering a lot of money," she said.

"The child does not have any ID or medical insurance now. I wanted to register her but the municipality officials tell me to go to Greece," Chakarova said. "With what money?"


The Rusev family's neighbours claim that a TV network offered to put the family up in a flat in Sofia in exchange for an exclusive interview.

"Let them leave my parents alone. Mum did not take any money to abandon Maria. We lived in the very same misery after her return from Greece," Katia said.

The Roma ghetto in Nikolaevo was also on edge. The social services tried to take the Rusev's three other younger children away on Thursday but neighbours prevented it, witnesses said.

"I took an axe. The other people bawled them out. Finally they assigned the kids to their elder sister Elena," Rumyana Tinkova, a 32-year-old neighbour, said.

Wearing a t-shirt and sandals, 18-year-old Elena shivered in the morning chill as she scolded her 6-year-old brother Filip, who was running barefoot and kept coughing.

Their other sister, 14-year-old blond Minka stood behind her, hiding from photographers' flashes.

"I would also like to have Maria back," Elena said timidly.

Bitter memories

The social services' attempt to take the children has brought back bitter memories for the women in Nikolaevo.

"They took three of mine. They were ill, I signed some papers although I can't even read. I found out later that my girls were adopted in Germany!" Tinkova, who has six more children, said.

"What mother will agree to be separated from her children? But they stole two of mine. They argued that the living conditions here were bad and that I had no income," said Anka Yordanova, another Roma mother, aged 31.

While Maria's case has revealed the extent of the stigma facing the Roma community, it has also raised some feeble hopes in Gurkovo and Nikolaevo.

"We have never seen people like you before in these slums. Show how we live, someone might send us clothes, blankets," said Boyan Ivanov, 33, pointing at his sick mother and four children sleeping on the humid floor of a ramshackle house, just like any other in Nikolaevo.

"We rarely find work so we are reduced to rummaging in the garbage and stealing," said one man.

"For the local authorities, we are not people. They only come here to take the census but we're on our own when it comes to battling hunger and disease," Ivanov added.
Read more on:    bulgaria  |  greece  |  genetics

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