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Roma family in Ireland reunited with daughter after DNA test

By Elinda Labropoulou. Erin McLaughlin and Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 1:07 PM EDT, Thu October 24, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Roma woman says couple in Greece didn't try to keep girl hidden from community
  • Tests show Ireland girl belongs to Roma couple, source says
  • The mother and father appear in court
  • Amnesty International: Discrimination against the Roma is widespread in Europe

Dublin, Ireland (CNN) -- Two blonde, blue-eyed girls taken from Roma couples. Authorities turn to DNA tests for answers.

For a family in Ireland, it's proof the girl is indeed their biological daughter.

For a girl in Greece, the mystery remains as to who she is and who her real parents are.

In Dublin, a 7-year-old girl whom Irish police took from her parents, a Roma couple, two days ago was reunited with them.

A DNA test confirmed she is their daughter, a source familiar with the case's legal proceedings told CNN on Wednesday.

This young girl, reportedly named Maria, was taken in by authorities Thursday, October 17, after she was found in a Roma community near Farsala, Greece. A Roma couple was initially charged with abducting her and falsifying official documents, and the case has generated huge interest in Greece. This young girl, reportedly named Maria, was taken in by authorities Thursday, October 17, after she was found in a Roma community near Farsala, Greece. A Roma couple was initially charged with abducting her and falsifying official documents, and the case has generated huge interest in Greece.
'Maria': Greece's mystery girl
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Police, acting on a tip, had removed the girl from her home on Monday and placed her in protective care.

The girl and her parents live in the suburb of Tallaght. The parents told CNN they have a passport for the girl, but they do not call her by the name on the passport. The couple, who appeared to be very upset by the situation, also showed CNN photos of the girl.

The parents appeared in family court earlier Wednesday, after which their attorney said the couple is going to take some time before considering their legal options, the British Press Association reported.

"Her parents greatly appreciate the help and assistance that they have been given by friends and relatives over the last few days," Waheed Mudah told the PA. "They now intend to concentrate on looking after their family and, in particular, in trying to reassure their daughter that she will be in their care."

For parents of the missing, hoes hope spring eternal?

Similar case in Greece

The situation echoes a case in Greece that has grabbed the attention of authorities and parents around the world.

Greek authorities say a girl believed to be 5 to 6 years old may have been abducted by a Roma couple there. Authorities have charged the couple with abducting the child they call Maria. Medical tests showed she wasn't their daughter, authorities have said.

That girl's DNA didn't match any profile in Interpol's database, the international law enforcement agency said Tuesday.

Greece mystery girl: Interpol says no DNA match in its database

Interpol said Greek authorities have asked for its help in finding out Maria's identity. "Until now, a comparison of the girl's profile against Interpol's global DNA database has not produced a match," Interpol said in a news release.

Maria's photograph has been broadcast worldwide.

Interpol said it would make the database available to authorities in countries where someone who claims to be a possible blood relative to the child has submitted a DNA profile.

The agency has more than 600 missing people listed on its website, 32 of whom are 5 or 6 years old.

A spokesman for a Greek children's charity said about 10 cases of missing children around the world are "being taken very seriously" in connection with Maria's case.

"They include children from the United States, Canada, Poland and France," said Panagiotis Pardalis of the Smile of the Child charity.

The couple who had Maria until last week, Eleftheria Dimopoulou, 40, and Christos Salis, 39, appeared in court Monday. Both were remanded into custody pending trial.

A lawyer for the couple says the pair adopted the child from her biological mother.

The Smile of the Child said the girl, who was found Thursday in a Roma community near Larissa, in central Greece, is being cared for in a group home.

Suspicions of false documents

Police have said they suspect records that the couple provided for Maria and for other children in their care may be false. In addition to the abduction charge, the couple is accused of falsifying official documents.

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Four authorities, including the head of the registry office that issued Maria's birth certificate, have been suspended while a police investigation is underway, the media office of the Athens municipality said Tuesday.

The girl received the document this year, it said. It is unusual for a birth certificate to be issued years later.

1,000 years of Roma discrimination

Authorities asked questions about Maria because she has fair skin and blond hair, while the couple who said they were her parents have darker complexions typical of Roma, a people descended from Indian nomads, who face widespread discrimination in Europe.

Their lawyers say they took Maria into their home after her biological mother, who they say was from Bulgaria, was unable to look after her.

CNN's Karl Penhaul spoke with residents of the Roma community who backed that assertion.

"Maria used to play here with the other children and go to the store with her mum. Maria was not hidden away," Maria Kaleas said. "The mother gave her away and Eleftheria was enchanted by Maria's beauty. She shared the food for her own children with Maria."

Could 'Maria' be an American girl?

Thousands of calls poured into Greece after authorities released photos of the girl last week.

Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin, whose daughter Lisa Irwin was 11 months old when she vanished two years ago from their home in Kansas City, Missouri, asked the FBI to contact Greek authorities about the case.

"There is no such thing as a tip too small," said Bradley, whose hopes were raised despite the apparent disparity in age between their missing daughter and Maria.

A federal law enforcement official said the FBI is working with Greek authorities to determine whether the girl could be Lisa Irwin.

A top official with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in Virginia said the center works with law enforcement groups to collect data, biometrics information and DNA that can be used to compare with samples from Maria.

"Frankly, right now ... it does not appear that this may be any of our children. But again we want to confirm one way or the other," said Robert Lowery, the senior executive director of the organization's missing children division.

He added that a definitive comparison could be done "rather quickly."

Prejudice against the Roma

Prejudice and discrimination against the Roma are widespread in Greece and elsewhere in Europe, Amnesty International says.

Maria's case plays into old prejudices about them stealing children for forced labor.

Pardalis mentioned such a possibility, saying, "We don't have any other information if this girl was forced to work or to beg on streets."

The government news agency also raised "the possibility of the existence of a ring bringing pregnant women to Greece from Bulgaria and then taking their children for sale." The agency cited past reports that empty coffins had been found for infants who supposedly were stillborn to foreign mothers in Athens.

Photo blog: The plight of the Roma

CNN's Erin McLaughlin reported from Dublin and Elinda Labropoulou from Athens, while Steve Almasy wrote in Atlanta and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN's Andrew Carey, Lindsay Isaac, Holly Yan, Carol Cratty and George Howell contributed to this report.

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