Roma case spurs review of birth data

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ATHENS, Greece -- A powerful Greek prosecutor ordered an emergency nationwide investigation Tuesday into birth certificates issued over the past six years, after a Roma couple were jailed on accusations of abducting a child found at a camp in central Greece.

The prosecutor, Efterpi Koutzamani, ordered the inquiry after reviewing news media reports that families were fraudulently securing benefits by declaring births in several regions of the country.

Last week, police became suspicious when they discovered a blond, green-eyed girl known as Maria at the Roma couple's home in an encampment in Farsala, near the city of Larissa. Subsequent DNA tests showed that the couple were not the girl's biological parents. The two are to face trial for abduction and fraudulently acquiring official documents.

"It has transpired from press reports that the case regarding the young Maria, where a certificate of birth was issued on the basis of false statements, is not an isolated case, but could possibly have occurred in other parts of the country," Ms. Koutzamani said in her order.

Police said the Roma woman had two police identity cards and had sought benefits for 14 children. She claimed to have given birth to six of the children within a 10-month period, authorities said.

In a separate case, a police spokesman in Ireland said a Roma family there was suspected in the abduction of a 7-year-old girl in Dublin. Police became suspicious after visiting the couple's home, where they saw the girl, also blond, among other children, the Irish news media reported. Police were not satisfied by the parents' explanation that the girl was their daughter, nor with the documents they produced.

The Roma, who trace their origins to India and are widely known as Gypsies, arrived in Europe centuries ago.

The cases add to the increasingly rancorous debate in France and elsewhere in Europe about the challenges of integrating Roma immigrants at a time when budgets are tight and public opinion in many countries is firmly against illegal immigration.

In France, President François Hollande stirred the debate over the weekend when he offered to allow a 15-year-old Roma girl, Leonarda Dibrani, who had been deported to Kosovo, to return to France, but not with her parents and five siblings. The girl initially rebuffed his offer, saying she did not want to return without her family. But on Tuesday, she said she was still deliberating. The family had been living illegally in France for five years.

Rights groups said they feared that the suspected abductions in Greece and Ireland could raise tensions at a time when the Roma are being stigmatized by far-right groups in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Hungary, where attacks on Roma villages have occurred in the past. In the summer of 2012, an off-duty police officer in Slovakia killed three people from a Roma community.

Marianne Powell, spokeswoman for the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest, said: "We are seeing more and more far-right parties marching against Roma or using violence. The facts must be established, and criminal activity should be treated on an individual basis and cannot be blamed on a whole group or ethnicity."



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