Maria and the Roma: Don't let this case damn an entire people

Stigmatising the Roma will only make integration more difficult

Share

Historically short on comfort, life as a Roma immigrant looks set to become a degree or so harder. Two feelings were incited immediately by the circulation of a picture of Maria, the 4-year-old blonde girl allegedly abducted by a Roma couple in central Greece: first, how awful an ordeal for any parent who thinks this may be their child. Second, how terribly ugly the alleged crimes; child-snatching, followed by benefit-fraud, with accusations of child abuse thrown in to boot.

This first feeling is a proper one, same as the second. But with the second comes an element of risk. It’s not inconceivable that anger at a single Roma couple, a 39-year-old man and 40-year-old woman, who claim they didn’t steal the child, will metastise into anger at an entire people. In a volatile Europe, you could hardly construct a more perfect or timely villain.

Tensions with the Roma run high in France already. Manuel Valls, the French interior minister, said last week that the Roma people lived so different a life to the indigenous population that they could not hope for integration. As some Roma children are sent by criminal gangs to pick-pocket on Metro trains and in city-centres, one poll found 93 per cent support his statement. Last summer a French deputy mayor, greeted by Nazi salutes on a visit to a Roma camp, reportedly muttered “maybe Hitler didn’t kill enough of them.” (Estimations of the scale of genocide reach 70 per cent.)

Britain, home to far fewer Roma than either Germany or France, anxiously awaits the beginning of 2014, when EU rules will allow Romanians free travel into the country. Both David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith warn of ‘benefit tourism’. The couple who raised Maria - letting a layer of grime settle on her face and hands and pigtails – are thought to have collected Greek benefits for many more children than they could possibly have conceived.

The difficulty here is keeping things in perspective. Already the fact that Maria is blonde and white, inevitably a reminder of Madeleine McCann, has contributed to wall-to-wall coverage. Were it a Romanian child found in the Roma camp, this would not have been a story. And, for populations that interact with the Roma primarily in the form of street-beggars, or tabloid scaremongering, it takes a mental contortion to get a sense of life from their point of view. These are the facts. 90 per cent of Roma in Europe live below the poverty line. They are shunted ceaselessly from place to place. Many say they can’t get jobs.

Responding to the child-snatching headlines, which fit a generations-old stereotype, native populations have two choices: French and British people can allow the stigma against the Roma to grow. Or – like the Germans have – they can support investment in education and social services to root out crime, and slow the traffic of Roma children into criminal gangs. One is easier, but will make the problem worse. The other is harder, but might make it better.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam