Nearly a hundred Roma gypsies were flown from Ireland to Bucharest last night, bringing an end to a months-long stand-off that saw them living on a motorway roundabout in scenes more reminiscent of Delhi slums than Dublin suburbs.
The group, all members of a single extended family, had journeyed to Ireland in the hope of taking advantage of Romania's recent membership of the European Union. They wanted, they said, to find steady agricultural work in the Irish countryside and improve their standard of living.
What they hadn't reckoned with was legislation decreeing that Romanians and Bulgarians cannot work in Ireland without a permit, and can only stay legally for three months at a time before having to prove employment. Nor could they claim benefits, thanks to another law barring anybody - including Irish citizens - from claiming welfare until they have lived legally in the country for two years.
And so the Roma set up camp on a roundabout in the middle of the M50, Ireland's congested motorway, in the sprawling suburbs west of the capital. Here the group of about 90 people, including six-week old babies and sixty-year-old grandmothers, cobbled together makeshift shelters, pilfering tarpaulin, scraps of wood and rope from rubbish tips.
"Conditions were very bad. The roundabout is in a sort of basin and with the horrific rain we've had, they were living knee-deep in mud and sludge, with no sanitation facilities," said Sara Russell, the Roma co-ordinator for Pavee Point Travellers Centre, which has been assisting the group.
The Roma are one of eastern Europe's most persecuted people, but conditions at the site in 21st-century Ireland have shocked even experienced aid workers.
With the smell of human excrement hanging in the air, the rotting food and piles of rubbish, two children from the camp were taken to a central Dublin hospital suffering from severe diarrhoea last week. Those youngsters that dodged disease could often be seen begging among the lorries, vans and cars on the motorway, prompting the AA in Ireland to warn about the dangers of a serious accident.
"We were saddened that these people were left in this squalor for two months, while they waited for a minister's decision," Ms Russell said.
That decision came at the weekend when the Garda, acting on the instructions of Justice Minister Brian Lenihan, served the Roma with deportation orders.
Many of the Rostas family at the centre of this saga are illiterate and so the "Know before you go" information campaigns run around the time of Romania's EU accession would have passed them by. And experts say that Irish officials were keen to send a strong message back to Romania that it was not worth making the trek to Ireland.
After Ireland's laws were explained to the Roma group in Dublin, most decided to go home of their own accord on free flights, laid on with the support of the Romanian governement. So on Tuesday, police moved in to transport the gypsies from their roundabout home to a temporary holding centre.
"They have all chosen to go home and they are being voluntarily repatriated," a spokeswoman for Ireland's Ministry of Justice was keen to emphasise.
The Romanian ambassador in Dublin has accused the gypsies of misleading Irish aid agencies. While the Roma have said they preferred a risky existence in the middle of an Irish motorway to their tortuous life back home in Romania, Silvia Stancu Davidou told The Irish Times that many of the gypsies did in fact have permanent addresses.
Last night the Roma left for Romania, where they will be transported by bus back to their respective home villages around Timisoara in the west of the country.
And among Dublin residents, there appeared to be little sympathy for their plight. "If you are going to work, welcome," wrote Anne Byrne in a letter to the Irish Independent. "If you are here to benefit from a better welfare system than you have in your own country, then go back and work on improving your own country, don't bleed ours dry."Reuse content