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4 Mar, 2009 10:24

Unhappy returns for abandoned kids

A children's home in Russia's Orenburg region has been told to close by local authorities after failing to meet fire saftey standards, forcing children to reunite with the parents who had abandoned them.

Five year old Ira is no stranger to orphanages. She's spent half her life there. Her mother is an alcoholic and gave her up.

“My mother has never come to see me,” said Ira.

Now Ira's back with her grandmother. With a monthly income of less than seventy dollars and no heating, its not a case of home sweet home.

Ira is one of 15 children who've been forced to leave their care home in the village of Perevolotsk. Most of them are back with the families they were taken away from because of neglect and alcoholism.

“A month ago we received a warning from a local emergency ministry office that the orphanage could be closed because it didn’t meet fire safety regulations. We tried to win some time to find a replacement home for the kids, but clearly they didn’t give us enough time,” said Anzhelika Gilmanova, director of the orphanage in Perevolotsk.

According to officials, the orphanage in Perevolotsk had a broken fire alarm and blocked fire escapes.

In recent years, several tragedies in care homes have shocked the country. One such case involved a fire at a nursing home in a village in the south of Russia which killed sixty three. Now local authorities are conducting additional and more thorough checks.

The orphanage was built in the 1980’s, in accordance with regulations of that time. And many of the modern requirements – like wider doorways for easier evacuation in case of fire – simply cannot be fulfilled," said local administrator Yakov Tevs.

The management of the orphanage says it would love to meet all requirements, but renovation work could cost a million roubles – around thirty thousand US dollars.

Private backers had offered to put up the money but the credit crunch has put a hold on that. Officials say they understand the financial difficulties, but the law is the law.

“Authorities find different formalities to close orphanages, especially private ones. Bad kitchens, poor sewer system, fire safety requirements. I have witnessed dozens of children’s homes closed even in Moscow,” said Svetlana Bocharova from the social movement “Dobro bez Granits” in Moscow.

Svetlana says she doesn't understand the motivation of the authorities. To them its clear that safer conditions are needed for those in care.

As a result, however, 16 children no older than 15 are left without somewhere safe to live. They don't care about the adult problems, they just want to see their orphanage reopened soon. That’s what the authorities have promised.

Most of the children were in tears when they learnt they had to return to their families. So was 5 year-old Ira. She says that as long as her mother doesn’t care about her, she belongs with the other children in the Perevolotsk orphanage