Children, Racism and the Greek State

The image of the blue-eyed blonde little girl removed from a Roma family and put into the care of an NGO has traveled the world with lightening speed as the Greek government seek to trace her biological parents.  Comparisons have been made to Madeleine McCann, another white child reported to have been fallen into the hands of traffickers, but look behind the hype and some awfully ugly secrets are revealed.

Article also available in Greek
Partial translation available in Icelandic

This story of a four year old girl taken from her Roma carers has circumnavigated the globe.  Every single international newspaper is currently running the story with minor variations, clearly based on the same press release.  The essence of the story is that a blonde, blue eyed young girl was found being cared for by a Roma couple who were no relation, but who was registered as being their child.  The story is frequently accompanied by a “before and after picture”, firstly with the girl looking clearly frightened and ill at ease, followed by a well scrubbed version in pink pajamas.

While the circumstances of how the child came to be cared for by the couple and indeed how the birth came to be registered to them is still under investigation, the trial by media has already reached a verdict: she has clearly been stolen by evil gypsies who come in the night and snatch newborns from their cots.  The international press coverage is bad enough, parrot fashion repeating the words of the Greek government as gospel, the Greek press however has reached fever pitch.

Despite the hyperbolic reporting, there is no substantive evidence that I can find in the reporting that the child was in any way mistreated, abducted or trafficked.  The couple have indicated that they had come to a private arrangement with the child’s mother, who already had five other children, to adopt the child informally and raise her within their own family.  Given that people in Greece are finding huge difficulties caring for children at the moment due to the austerity measures imposed, such an occurrence is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility.  Some parents have been forced to hand their children in to orphanages as they are unable to provide for them, while still-births and child malnutrition is soaring.

The initial photo released of her clearly shows a level of distress and anxiousness and it is reported that she was hiding under bedclothes as she was found.  This is hardly surprising.  When forty one armed police burst into your small community and hiding under bedclothes is a natural reaction for a child who you wouldn’t expect to be anything but distressed at the events. This raid was just one of many that the Greek police are conducting to terrorise the Roma community in Greece but when Roma people are targetted by neo-nazis burning them out of their homes, the police turn a blind eye.

On spotting her blonde blue-eyed credentials, the child was immediately DNA tested and removed from her carers, yet such is the concern that the Greek authorities have for her that they cannot even be bothered to find someone who speaks her own language, instead communicating with her through gestures.  Although such contempt for children from Roma familes is not unusual.  Last month a shop owner approached a young Roma girl, only a few years older than Maria, playing accordian in the street and started kicking her.

The hypocrisy of the Greek authorities in alleging child abduction and trafficking on the basis of no evidence whatsoever is stunning in light of the Agia Varvara scandal of only a decade ago.  Five hundred and two Roma children “disappeared” from an orphanage in Athens where they had been placed.  Despite demands to investigate the fate of these children, little was ever done.  The Greek government have now removed the report that they submitted to the European commission from their website, with only the archived web copy remaining, in a blatant attempt to cover this up. This report makes for chilling reading.  In particular, pay attention to page 3; the end of paragraph 2.

Greek original
“Υποστηριζει επισης στι πολλά από τα παιδιά αντα (στην πλειοψηφια τουσ Αλβανικης καταγωγησ)ειχαν επανακτηθει απο δουλεμπορους, που πληρωναν μεχρι και το ποσο των 500 ευρώ για να αποσπασουν τα παιδια απο το ιδρυμα με σκοπο την οικονομικη εκμεταλλευση τη χρηση τους στην πορνεια η την πωληση οργανων τουσ.”

English translation
It seems like the children (many of them Albanian) were given to traffickers, who paid up to 500 euros to remove them from the institution for the purpose of economic exploitation – prostitution or the sale of their organs.”

Just so that you are clear, and there is no misinterpretation.  Roma children in a Greek institution, under the care and protection of the Greek state, were sold to traffickers.  Not one child, not two children, not ten children, but hundreds of children.  The Greek state only investigated these disappearances on the insistence of the European union.  Of the 502 that “disappeared”, only four were ever found.  And the matter was quietly dropped.

Talking of missing children, the narrative of a pretty pre-school girl does put you in mind of another “missing” child.  And indeed, right on cue, a spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann, whose daughter Madeleine went “missing” in 2007, popped up to say that the case gave them “great hope” that she would one day be found alive.  I’ll bet it does, for if the Greek government can concoct a tale of abduction out of thin air by using the picture of pretty little girl to tug at heartstrings, it gives credence to their own version of events, particularly where they can rely on their friends in high places to pull more robust strings when the hearts start to harden.

But pretty little blonde blue-eyed girls make for newspaper sales, especially nicely scrubbed in fresh pink pajamas.  Maria is very lucky.  A different, less appealing colour of skin and a very different fate would await.   Had Maria been of African or Asian origin rather than the more favoured European phenotype, it is highly unlikely that she would be being fussed over and given new pajamas.  Rather she would be thrown into a concentration camp like the other children who the Greek state do not consider Greek and for whom biological parents with legal Greek status cannot be found.

Like these toddlers who shout for freedom from within of the concentration camp in Lesbos; witness the excitement of the adults and children alike when they think that the NGO representatives have come to liberate them from the camp, and then the disappointment when the representative explains (4.33) that they are “doing their best”.

This video was taken in 2009, before the large scale concentration camps were put into use, when Human Rights organisations were still allowed free access to the camps, and when conditions in the camps were considerably better than they are today.  At that time, the numbers of children being held in them numbered in the hundreds, now it is in the thousands and likely to grow still further.

This international appeal to find the parent/s of Maria is not prompted by the Greek state’s concern for the welbeing of children, but by their desire to scapegoat the Roma population.  The fear of “gypsy child-snatchers” is sufficient to distract from the real scandals involving Roma children and the ongoing issues of institutional child abuse going on in Greece right now.  Unless there is evidence of maltreatment the child should be immediately returned to the only parents she has ever known until her biological parents can be traced;  the Greek state should not be abducting children.  The events of the Agia Varvara institution should be thoroughly investigated including tracking the hundreds of children who were sold to traffickers from within it, and the children currently in the concentration camps should be immediately released.

A tale of the abduction and trafficking of a pretty little white girl can cover up an awful lot of sins.

It can also be quite profitable.

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