Tests prove Roma couple are mystery girl’s parents

NIKOLAEVO, Bulgaria (AP) — The mystery is solved — but the future of the young girl known only as Maria is still uncertain.

DNA tests have confirmed that a Bulgarian Roma couple living in an impoverished village with their nine other children are the biological parents of the girl found in Greece with another Roma couple, authorities said Friday.

Genetic profiles of Sasha Ruseva, 35, and her husband, Atanas, matched that of Maria, Interior Ministry official Svetlozar Lazarov said Friday.

Ruseva says she gave birth to a baby girl four years ago in Greece while working as an olive picker but gave the child away because she was too poor to care for her. She since has had two more children after Maria.

Maria has been in a charity’s care since authorities raided a Roma settlement in Greece last week and found she was not related to the Greek Roma couple she was living with. Her discovery triggered a global search for her parents, fears of possible child trafficking and interest from authorities dealing with missing children cases in Poland, France, the United States and elsewhere.

Minka Ruseva, daughter of Sasha Ruseva, left, dances along with other children in a Roma neighborhood of Nikolaevo, Bulgaria, Friday, Oct. 25, 2013. Sasha Ruseva, a Bulgarian Roma woman from this town, is under investigation by Bulgarian authorities trying to find out  if she is the mother of a suspected abduction victim in neighboring Greece known as "Maria" whose case has triggered a global search for her real parents. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

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Minka Ruseva, daughter of Sasha Ruseva, left, dances along with other children ... more >

Human rights groups have also raised concerns that the news coverage about Maria and the actions taken by authorities were fueling racist sentiment against the European Union’s Gypsy minority, who number around 6 million.

The Bulgarian prosecutor’s office and Greek authorities were “seeking clarification on whether the mother agreed to sell the child,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The Rusevs and their other children live in a dilapidated, mud-floored house outside the remote Bulgarian village of Nikolaevo, 280 kilometers (175 miles) east of the capital, Sofia.

The Roma, or Gypsy, quarter here houses some 2,000 people. Most here are jobless, living in extreme poverty, trying to stay warm in shabby houses. Children played Friday in mud-covered streets as pigs, cats and hens ambled by.

Minka Ruseva, a 14-year-old who is one of the Rusev family’s children, stood in front of their dilapidated two-room house. Minka said she saw pictures of Maria on TV and thought she was her sister.

“I like her very much, she looks very much like me and I want her back home. We will take care of her and I can help my mother,” she said.

Stoyan Todorov, a neighbor of the Rusevs’, complained of the hardships that he and his family face every day. He said Bulgarian authorities do not care about helping the Roma and come “only on the eve of elections, hoping to get our votes.”

“Look how we are living in total misery,” he continued. “Years ago, a man was murdered in our neighborhood and nobody paid attention. Now there are crowds of concerned people here because of one girl.”

As he spoke, he pointed at the scores of reporters from across Europe who had descended on the remote area.

“The truth is that we do not have the money to look after our kids,” Todorov said.

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