International authorities are trying to find the real parents of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, four-year-old girl who police discovered hiding under a blanket during a drug raid on a Roma gypsy camp near central Greece.
Greek police first took the child, who they are calling Maria, because she looked nothing like her Roma parents, a 40-year-old woman and a 39-year-old man. DNA tests have confirmed that she was not related to the couple she was living with.
The couple gave at least five different accounts of how Maria came to live with them, including that they found her outside of a supermarket, that she was handed to them in a blanket, and that she had a foreign father.
A lawyer for the couple told The Telegraph that "they took her out of charity, through an intermediary, while she was just days old from a foreign stranger who said she could not support her daughter."
"We're talking about a woman who could not raise this child and who gave it to the couple in 2009 through a third party shortly after her birth," Marietta Palavra told reporters.
Police believe the Roma couple may have been running a trafficking ring in addition to defrauding the state by registering 14 different children for about $3,800 per month in child benefits. Six of those children were registered as being born in a 10 month time period.
The 40-year-old woman also had two different valid identification documents.
The child is now being looked after by a charity called the Smile of Child.
"She was frightened and cried herself to sleep. She is not looking for anyone and she is devoted to play," the head of the charity told Reuters. "It has shaken everyone and has helped bring to light a major problem - just how easy it is to traffic children."
The discovery also brings the Roma issue — a subject of recent massive protests in Paris, where the government has proposed opening a Gypsy settlement — under the international spotlight.
There are about 6 million Roma in Europe, making the stateless group "the largest and most disadvantaged minority in the region," according to Amnesty International. The Roma have become associated with drugs, cons, and health hazards, leading to discrimination cases across the European Union.
The debate is loudest in France, where Metro security warns over a loudspeaker that pickpockets are around whenever they spot Gypsy groups on security cameras. Just this month, 26 Roma in France were convicted on multiple counts of forcing children to steal.
“We have no papers, we can’t work, what else are we supposed to do?” a pregnant Roma woman told the New York Times. “We are Europeans, too."
Last year, French deputy mayor Gilles Bourdouleix, sparked the debate anew when he allegedly muttered, “Maybe Hitler didn’t kill enough of them," as he walked through an encampment.
In September, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, called for the Roma to "return to Romania or Bulgaria" because he thought they didn’t integrate well in France. He ordered forcible evacuations and tear-downs of camps in several French cities, leading the EU to threaten sanctions.
And just this month, a Roma child was pulled off a school bus and deported in front of her French classmates, sparking two days of massive protests led largely by teenagers.
[image via Greek Police]