Members of the European Parliament have heard how Dutch social services seized ten-year old twins from a Russian-speaking Latvian family long resident in The Netherlands because the mother spoke Russian to the children in the home.
Dutch child protection authorities also made a claim, later shown to be baseless, that the ethnic-Russian mother might take the children out of The Netherlands and away from their estranged father.
In an emotional statement read out to the Petition Committee of the parliament, Ilya Antonovs, the 25-year old brother of twins Nikolai and Anastasia, told how the children have been held in a commercial child-care facility since March 2012, where they are forbidden to speak their first language of Russian.
A Latvian MEP, Tatjana Zdanoka, then told the committee that: ‘We have in the Latvian press now the information that it is dangerous to go to another member state for work because your child can be kidnapped.’
She said it affects the right of the free movement of people in the EU: ‘These people have families, they have children and they are afraid to execute that right.’
The parliament’s Petitions Committee was hearing testimony on ‘pan-EU child protection cases framed in the light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.’ Before the testimony by Ilya Antonovs, members of the committee watched 75 seconds of video snatched by him during the seizure of the twins.
MEPs saw the children struggling and heard them screaming and crying out in Dutch to the social workers ‘I want my mother!’ Despite this, they were pulled from the family home by child protection officers and uniformed police, who tried to stop the filming. The children were carried into a waiting police van.
Despite two rulings in favour of the mother, Jelena Antonova, in the Dutch court of appeal, the children remain in the commercial child care facility at a cost to taxpayers of £65,000 a year for each child.
Over the past two years, Mrs Antonova has been allowed to see the children just once every two weeks, and then only in a locked room in the presence of social workers. Her son Ilya said she speaks Russian to the twins, despite social workers’ insistence she speak Dutch.
This comes as President Putin repeats his claims that the large ethnic-Russian minorities in Latvia and the other Baltic States – as in eastern Ukraine – must be protected by Russia. David Cameron and other NATO members announced this week that they will increase forces in the Baltic because they fear Putin may use the presence of substantial Russian minorities as an excuse to destabilise the region.
Cases such as that of Jelena Antonova and her children could make it look like Putin has a point. In Latvia, despite being an EU member state, there are 400,000 people born who are classified as ‘non-citizens’ by the state.
This is because they are were not deemed ethnically Latvian at the time of independence from the Soviet Union or they were born to two non-citizen parents. Such ‘non-citizens,’ who generally speak Russian as a first language, are not allowed to vote, join the police or teach school.
The video of the seizure of the Antonovs twins can be seen below: