Siblings of 'blond angel' to be taken into care in Bulgaria

Bulgarian authorities said on Wednesday they would take into care most of the brothers and sisters of Maria, the four-year-old Roma girl who captured global attention after she was discovered in Greece living with a Roma couple who were not her parents.

Social workers seize 7 of 9 remaining children belonging to Roma family whose daughter was found in Greece

Sasha Ruseva holds two-year-old Penka, one of her 10 children, in the town of Nikolaevo, Bulgaria. Seven of her children will be taken into state custody and be placed in foster homes or state facilities, Bulgarian authorities said Wednesday. The family attracted global attention when Ruseva's daughter Maria was found living with another Roma family in Greece. (BGNES/Associated Press)

Bulgarian authorities said on Wednesday they would take into care most of the brothers and sisters of Maria, the four-year-old Roma girl who captured global attention after she was discovered in Greece living with a Roma couple who were not her parents.

DNA tests have confirmed that Sasha Ruseva, 35, is the biological mother of Maria, whose blue eyes and blond hair aroused the suspicions of Greek police when they raided a Roma camp this month.

Ruseva and her husband, both Bulgarian Roma, have nine other children between the ages of two and 20 and live in deep poverty, occupying one room in a crumbling house in the town of Nikolaevo, 280 km east of the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.

TV footage that showed the children in shabby clothes sleeping on a mud floor and speaking little Bulgarian caused public outrage.

Two eldest children not affected

"We decided to accommodate four of the kids with foster families," Diana Kaneva, head of the agency for social assistance in the area, told Reuters on Wednesday.

Four of the Ruseva children in the doorway of their house. From left, Atanas, 3, Fanka, 11, Penka, 2, and Philip, 7. (BGNES/Associated Press)

"Two children will be sent to a state institution, and one will be placed with relatives of the family," she said, adding that the measures were temporary and contact between children and their parents would be encouraged by the social workers.

Two other children are over 18 and not subject to state protection.

Maria, dubbed "the blond angel" by Greek media, is now in the care of the Athens-based charity Smile of the Child.

On Tuesday, Bulgarian authorities said they would take steps to bring her back to the Balkan country.

Case highlights desperate plight of Roma

Sasha Ruseva's daughter Minka, in black and white stripes, dances along with other children in her neighbourhood. (Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press)

Ruseva, who said she left Maria as a seven-month-old baby with another couple in Greece because she was too poor to care for her, has also said she would like to take her back. Many Roma from other parts of Europe travel to Greece to work as seasonal workers picking olives.

Both parents are jobless and live on welfare. Ruseva is under investigation over whether she was paid for handing over her child, which she denies. The couple in Greece have been charged there with abducting a minor and detained.

The case has illustrated the plight of Roma gypsies in Bulgaria, the European Union's poorest member state. Many spend their lives close to destitution, illiterate and on the fringes of society. 

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