Take Roma children away from parents, says envoy

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The Independent Online

The European Commission's envoy to Slovakia was yesterday given a formal rebuke for suggesting that Roma children should be removed from their parents to ensure they learnt "normal social values".

The European Commission's envoy to Slovakia was yesterday given a formal rebuke for suggesting that Roma children should be removed from their parents to ensure they learnt "normal social values".

In a Dutch television interview, the head of the Commission's office in Bratislava, Eric Van der Linden, called for children to be forced to attend boarding schools to get them away from family influences. The comment outraged organisations campaigning for the rights of Europe's Roma.

In a transcript of the interview released by ERIO, a Brussels-based body advocating Roma rights, Mr Van der Linen, said that, while "it may sound simplistic", it might be necessary "to strengthen education and organise the educational system in a way that we may have to start to - I'll say it in quotation marks - force Romani children to stay in a kind of boarding schools from Monday morning until Friday afternoon".

In this way they would "continuously be subjected to a system of values which is dominant in our society," he argued. "The generation that will be educated then and at the same time raised, will fit better in the dominant society; they will be able to co-operate in a productive way to the growth of the economy," he added.

Challenged by the Dutch television crew about the morality of taking children forcibly from their families, Mr Van der Linden, argued Roma families could be offered money to break any resistance.

Despite demands for Mr Van der Linden to resign, he looked set to keep his job last night, after saying that, while he did make the comments, he was selectively quoted. The official was trying to draw a parallel with experience in Hungary, where Roma children attend boarding schools voluntarily, the Commission said.

Reijo Kemppinen, the Commission's spokesman, described his words as "unfortunate", adding: "not only do they sound simplistic - they are simplistic. We have no policy of forcing children to stay in boarding schools against their will, or against that of their parents".

Mr Kemppinen added that the EU envoy had undertaken not to speak publicly on the issue again but that no disciplinary action was planned at present.

In a statement ERIO called on the Commission to remove Mr Van der Linden from his post, arguing "his statements stand in contradiction with the Commission's efforts to promote human rights and the rights of the Roma minority".

Valeriu Nicolae, deputy director of ERIO, added: "Mr Van der Linden is a diplomat; he is paid for talking. If he is not able to do that he should step down.

"The European Commission has done great things for Roma people for so many years and here is a person who is talking about forced assimilation."

Many of Europe's eight million Roma people live in acute poverty. The treatment of the Roma population was one of the key issues in EU membership negotiations for several of the 10 nations that joined the bloc on May 1. The Commission has urged the newcomers to bring minorities into the social mainstream, while also arguing the Roma community itself should be more open to integration.

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