Beachgoers sunbathe beside bodies of gypsy children
THE bodies of two drowned Roma children lay covered by towels on an Italian beach while holidaymakers carried on, unfazed enjoying the sun.
Cristina Ibramovitc, 12, and Viola Ibramovitc, 11, were left on the sand for an hour among "indifferent" holidaymakers after being caught in rough seas.
The two, who are related but not sisters, were among four children who had gone to the beach to beg and their death highlighted Italy's dramatic problem with Roma gypsy youngsters.
The tragedy happened on a stretch of beach at Torregaveta, north of Naples, after witnesses said the children, who had been begging and selling trinkets, rushed into the sea.
One eyewitness quoted on Italian TV said: "The water was rough and no-one was in the sea but these four Roma children just rushed into the huge waves.
"The beach was packed and people soon realised the four were in trouble because the children started screaming and shouting for help. Some people went in and got two of them but the other two couldn't be saved and they were pulled from the water dead.
"Bodies were left on the beach for an hour before being collected, just covered by a beach towel while people just got back to sunbathing and playing football.
"It was very surreal – there was this picture of a typical Italian beach with families enjoying the sun and then just metres away were the bodies of these two children. People were completely indifferent about what had happened.''
A Naples coastguard spokesman said: "When we got there, there was nothing we could do and so we simply called the mortuary and arranged for them to come and pick up the bodies of the two children. While they were on the beach someone used their towel to cover the bodies until the mortuary van arrived.''
Police said the two surviving children had been taken to a police station for identification.
Last night, Laura Boldrini, a spokeswoman from the UN High Commission for Refugees said: "Accounts would seem to suggest that even in death there seemed to be total indifference as their bodies lay on the beach while people continued to enjoy themselves.
"I wonder if these people would have behaved in the same way if the children in question were Italian and not Roma? How can people show such a lack of compassion?"
Cardinal Crescenzo Sepe of Naples also condemned the attitude of holidaymakers. "A tragedy has struck at the heart of Naples, the church has every sympathy for the victims and two precious lives lost.
"In those pictures you see holidaymakers who appear more upset at the fact their view of the beach has been obstructed.
"These images should never have to be seen. Indifference should not be a sentiment for human beings."
Last night, Torrevegata's mayor, Franco Inauzzi, hit back at the claims of indifference: "From what I heard everyone tried to help and do what they could.
"'I don't think there was any indifference from the people on the beach and if there was it wasn't due to the fact the victims were from a different ethnic background.''
Berlusconi crackdown taps into popular dislike of Romas
SILVIO Berlusconi swept back to power this year on a tough law-and-order campaign in which he vowed to clamp down on illegal immigration.
Italians blame the rising crime rate on illegal immigrants, with Roma gypsies being especially targeted after a series of high-profile incidents including the murder of an Italian admiral's wife.
Mr Berlusconi wants to clamp down on Roma gypsies who send their children out to beg or clean car windscreens and last month announced the controversial fingerprint scheme for children.
The announcement by Roberto Maroni, the interior minister, provoked condemnation from children's charity Unicef and opposition MPs.
It was described as "racist" and a sinister echo of Italy's Fascist past. Mr Maroni, of the xenophobic Northern League, dismissed suggestions of racism and discrimination.
There has been a backlash against Roma, with petrol bombs being thrown at a camp in Naples and sporadic vigilante attacks.
Mr Maroni said fingerprints would be taken "not just of the adults in gypsy camps but also minors as well". He added: "This procedure will stop the phenomenon of children begging – it is not some form of ethnic screening. Fingerprinting will also help send back those who have no right to be here."
There are estimated to be 160,000 Roma gypsies living in camps across Italy, often in appalling conditions with little basic sanitation.
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