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Irish DNA testing of blonde Roma sparks racism claims

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-10-24

The forced DNA testing of two blonde Roma children by Irish police in order to prove a biological link to their parents has sparked accusations from rights groups of anti-Roma racism in response to an alleged child abduction case in Greece.

Two blonde children who were taken by Irish police from their Roma parents were returned on Wednesday to their families after DNA tests determined that the infants were rightfully theirs.

A seven-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy were each removed from their families following public tip-offs fuelled by media coverage of an alleged child-abduction case in Greece involving a blonde-haired girl and her Roma family.

Police said the girl and boy were both returned to their families after "confirmation of their established biological identities".

The episode has raised accusations of racism as Roma families across Europe find themselves under the spotlight following last week’s alleged child abduction case in Greece.

Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter told lawmakers on Thursday he was “pleased and relieved” that the two children had been returned to their homes. He ordered the police commander, Commissioner Martin Callinan, to produce a report explaining why officers felt it necessary to take the children from their families.

In both cases, police suspected that the children might be victims of abductions because they were blonde-haired and blue-eyed, unlike their immediate relatives.

"People should of course report to the authorities any reasonable concerns which they have about the safety of children,” Shatter said. “But we must all be particularly conscious of the regrettable distress that arose for the two families and their children.”

He cautioned that Irish authorities must ensure “that no group or minority community is singled out for unwarranted suspicion in relation to child protection issues”.

'Despicable'

The two-year-old boy was taken from a family in Athlone in the Irish midlands on Tuesday following an investigation and returned on Wednesday morning.

The boy's father, speaking in broken English in an interview with Irish state broadcaster RTE, said his son has blonde hair and blue eyes but that the boy's mother and great-grandfather have the same colouring.

"My wife, my grandfather is the same thing; and they [the police] tell me: 'I know that but people will not believe that,' and I said you can take my blood," the man said. He also said that his wife did not sleep until her son was returned and the boy’s older sister cried most of the night.

In Dublin, a seven-year-old girl was taken from her family when police issued an emergency child protection order after finding her documentation unsatisfactory.

The family’s lawyer, Waheed Mudah, issued a statement outside the Family Court accusing the police of acting without justifiable cause. Mudah said his clients were “very conscious of the fact that this case has been linked” with the Greek child-abduction case, “which has nothing to do with them”.

He said his clients hoped parents across Ireland would “consider how they would feel if one of their children was taken away in similar circumstances for similar reasons. They hope no other family has to go through the experience they have suffered”.

Pavee Point, a charity that represents the traveller and Roma community in Ireland, accused the police of racial profiling and child abduction and warned against “witch-hunts” targeting the Roma community.

The group’s co-director, Martin Collins, said he feared that more children “of Roma parents who are not dark-skinned and have brown eyes could be taken away, one after the other, for DNA test after DNA test. It’s outrageous. It’s despicable”.

An estimated 5,000 Roma have settled over the past decade in Ireland, where many have been linked to organised street-begging rackets involving children.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-10-24

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