By Mick Krever, CNN
The mysterious case of a blond-haired girl picked up by police in a Greek Roma camp has brought into stark focus the plight of Roma people across Europe.
Interpol is helping Greek authorities conduct a worldwide search to find “Maria’s” biological parents; police became suspicious because she is blond and blue-eyed, while the couple who say they are her parents had darker complexions.
“It produces and reinforces prejudice which already exists in the society related to the fact that Roma are engaged in a criminal behavior; in a way, this case says Roma are stealing babies,” Dezideriu Gergely, executive director of the European Roma Rights Centre told CNN’s Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour, on Wednesday.
The couple from whom Maria was taken have been charged with child abduction. They deny the charges, and insist that she was adopted.
“The problem here is that among the Roma communities we have a diversity of groups, and not all of the Roma are dark skinned,” Gergely said. “So what and how would authorities handle this situation?”
And it’s not only Greece. Irish police on Wednesday removed another blond girl from a Roma couple who police suspected was not their own.
DNA tests now show that that couple are indeed the biological parents, a source familiar with the case's legal proceedings told CNN Wednesday.
“It is extremely important to say that yes, it is something wrong about it and state authorities need to react,” he told Gorani. “But the responsibility in this case – it’s individual, it’s not collective.”
In other words, there is no reason that potential individual wrongdoing should be applied to an entire group, millions-strong across Europe.
“High state-level officials,” he said, “are saying that Roma are not sharing the same values and therefore there is no place for them in the respected societies.”
It is critical, he told Gorani, to look not only at the effects, but also the causes.
“The crux of the problem lies in poverty and racism,” Gergely said. “This cannot be easily addressed; it’s a complex issue.”
Everyone in Europe – Roma and governments alike – have agreed that if there is a solution it lies in “social inclusion,” he told Gorani.
But, he contended, while European governments say they support this goal, they have not acted on implementing it.
“Of course there’s a lot of efforts needed from the Roma community in itself, because the Roma community also has to overcome its own problems,” he said. “But there is need for support in that regard.”