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The condition of Roma and Sinti early childhood in Italy

The position of Roma and Sinti communities in Italy is a direct consequence of various migratory flows that have affected the country from the 15th century to the early 2000s.[1] As a result of these flows, it is possible to identify 22 communities of  Roma and Sinti populations.

As it is impossible to carry out censuses on an ethnic basis in Italy, there are no concrete numbers about the members of the different groups. According to the Council of Europe, the number of Roma and Sinti living in Italy could be between 110,000 and 170,000.[2] However, only a small proportion of them live in a condition of hypervisibility because they reside in formal camps —settlements designed, built and managed by local authorities according to ethnic criteria — and informal settlements.

Formal and informal settlements

The latest report presented last November 4th in the Senate by Associazione 21 Luglio states that 11,300 people live in the 109 formal camps on national soil — half of them hailing from former Yugoslavia. Of these, some have Italian citizenship and others have Romanian citizenship.[3] There are also 6,500 people, with Romanian or Bulgarian citizenship, living in informal settlements.

Without precise data relating to those Roma and Sinti people who have ostensibly integrated into Italian society (who live in conventional homes, do not wear traditional clothing, speak fluent Italian, and send their children to school), the only studies and analyses about the condition of Roma and Sinti early childhood in Italy refer to the 15% of Roma and Sinti living in mono-ethnic settlements — in conditions of extreme segregation, exclusion, physical and relational isolation. As a result, this group cannot be considered representative of the majority.

“The Campland”

Since 2000, Italy has been referred to by the European Roma Rights Center as “The Campland” because it has used by far the most economic and human resources to maintain ethnic-based housing arrangements of any country in Europe.[4] The daily realities of life in these formal and informal settlements makes the promotion of actions that affect childcare particularly complex. The absence of electricity and drinking water, air pollution, living inside a caravan or container, the absence of safe spaces for play, economic precariousness, real and perceived exclusion, distance from the school, are all elements that hinder the healthy growth and development of a child from birth.

In such residential contexts the social elevator remains stuck. From birth, the fate of Roma and Sinti children is influenced and guided by these harsh statistics. According to a study conducted in 2016 by Associazione 21 Luglio, the life of a child born within a mono-ethnic settlement immediately appears to be an “obstacle race”.[5]

For example:

  •  A Roma child who lives in a formal or informal settlement in the city of Rome is 30-40% more likely to be estranged from their family and declared adoptable that a non-Roma child.
  • The practice of early marriage has strong physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional repercussions among the adolescents involved;
  • Children, known as “white orphans” — who are left behind in Romania when their parents emigrate to Italy in search of jobs and resources that will help give their children a better future — experience strong repercussions on nutrition, sanitation and psycho-physical development in the absence of a maternal care giver.
  • In 2015 in Italy, an average of 40 children, aged between 0 and 3, led a life as “prisoners” in jail with their mothers. The majority of these were of Roma origin.

From the limited data available, it appears that children in “Roma camps”[6] have a shorter life expectancy and higher infant mortality than the reference populations. They are born underweight more often than other children and suffer from respiratory diseases in greater numbers than their non-Roma peers. Moreover, these children  are often affected by poisoning, burns and domestic accidents. Discomfort or degradation diseases or “diseases of poverty” are increasing — such as tuberculosis, scabies, pediculosis, as well as viral, fungal, and venereal infections, which occur with ever greater frequency than in the past[7].

Associazione 21 Luglio has developed a full website to present the state of affairs of the camps in Italy. Navigate throughout Il Paesi dei Campi (The Campland).

How is REYN Italy responding to these challenges?

The work of REYN Italy and other organizations in this network has been pivotal in promoting equal rights for Roma children over the past few years. However, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the cohesion, sense of belonging and functionality of the Italian network. It is, therefore, necessary to reinforce and rebuild the REYN Italy which, in turn, will have a significant impact on the lives of Roma children living in Italy.

That’s why we plan to:

  • build cohesion and participation inside the REYN Italy network while increasing the number of its members. REYN Italy aims at revitalizing, reinforcing and broadening its membership, and engaging institutions such as municipalities, schools, health and family counselling centers.
  • advocate for access to inclusive, quality and non-discriminatory early childhood development for Roma children. In the Italian context, these objectives are crucial in continuing to promote and facilitate the social change that we are seeing in regards to Roma settlements with knock-on effects on their standards of living, and the protection of the rights of Roma children.

In order to support the rights and lives of Roma children, REYN Italy activities will highlight among decision-makers the need to guarantee, protect and promote the rights of Roma children.


[1] The Sinti are to be found primarily in the German-speaking regions (Germany, Switzerland, Austria) where they settled in the 15th century, and in Benelux and Sweden. There is a southern sub-branch of the Sinti in northern Italy (Piemont, Lombardy) and in southeastern France (Provence), whose language comprises a partly Italian-based vocabulary. In France, they are also called Manush. Sinti/Manush represent 2 to 3% of the total Roma population (generic sense) in Europe.

[2]   http://www.coe.int/t/dg3/romatravellers/default_en.asp.

[3]   Associazione 21 luglio, L’esclusione nel tempo del Covid, Roma, 2021.

[4]   ERRC, “Campland”, Budapest, 2000. http://www.errc.org/uploads/upload_en/file/00/0F/m0000000F.pdf

[5]   Associazione 21 luglio, Uscire per sognare, 2016.

[6] Some Roma in Italy live in a state of separation from mainstream Italian society. These Roma live segregated on ethnic basis in some areas, excluded and ignored, in filthy and squalid conditions, without basic infrastructure. They “squat” abandoned buildings or set up camps along the road or in open spaces with tents, caravans or shacks. They can be evicted at any moment, their settlements are often called “illegal” or “unauthorised”. Other Roma live in “camps” or squalid ghettos that are “authorised and provided with caravans or prefebricated buildings”. The smaller camps, home to only fifteen to thirty people, are generally unauthorised. Authorised camps tend to comprise at least one hundred people.

[7]UNAR, Strategia Nazionale per l’Inclusione dei Rom sinti e caminanti, Roma, 2012.

Smoothing the Transition of Roma Children from the Trailer Park to School

In the city of Leuven, Belgium, many initiatives have been taken over the years to increase the participation of children of the Rom Traveller[1] families in the nearby schools. The efforts of different welfare organizations ensured that by September of 2021 90% of the Rom children were present by the start of the new school year. Various efforts contributed to this success, including exchange visits organized by REYN Belgium and providing insights and inspiration from the REYN network. The strength of the experience in Leuven is that different social organizations work together towards the same purpose: to ensure that Roma children attend school regularly and feel comfortable there, and that there is good school-parent cooperation. 

At the residential trailer park in Leuven, 30 Rom Traveller families are living permanently. The city of Leuven has made a conscious decision to invest in the establishment of social support services for the Rom families. In concrete terms, this means that two employees of the city are responsible for the entire functioning of the trailer park in consultation with the Rom families. As the employees of the city of Leuven are regularly present at the trailer park, trust has been formed between the families and them over time. Two staff members are the Roma families’ point of contact for support questions in different areas of life. Because of the diversity of questions, there was the need to start a broader network of social professionals. This network –  the so-called ROL team – consists of staff from Agency Child and Family, staff from the family support organization ‘De Mobil’ and social workers from the public centre for social welfare . With this group, two times a week they organize on-site consultations. In this way, they can take concrete action with regard to the families’ requests for support on different life domains, each on the basis of their own expertise. They work together with partners on housing, health, leisure activities for the youngsters. More and more parents by now are convinced that these services might be beneficial for them and their children and are willing to make contact.

Residential trailer park in Leuven

Involving parents in the transition

These partners are also involved in creating smooth and warm transitions from home to the schools in the neighborhoud, and they do it by motivating and reassuring families along the process.

A couple of years ago, members from the family support organization ‘De Mobil’ started to regularly organize a play-and-meet-moment for young parents and their young children (0-5 years). These pre-school activities are still going on where children can play with toys and games, while parents chat and discuss topics on education and family life. Parents can work out a picture book on their families, as a starting point for conversation. In the future, they will be able to lend the toys for a certain period. 

In organizing these activities on a regular basis, the professionals of ‘De Mobil’ have built a strong relationship with the families and have gained their trust. They also support the conversations between the parents themselves. One of the topics is going to school. Parents have many questions: how does it work, a school day? What do children there? How will the teachers react on children’s needs?

The staff of the local Agency Child an Family, who are also members of the ‘ROL team’ are involved in motivating and reassuring the families for school.

“While parents come to our consultation office for the medical check-up of their babies and toddlers, we talk about schooling. At first they think it’s too early for their child, but later they change their mind. We provide information on how to register, when school starts etc. Because they are not familiar with our education system, you’ve got to give them time.”

Hanne, nurse from Child and Family Agency

To put further trust in going to school and as an action due to the pandemic, two schools in Leuven took the initiative to  organize temporarily ‘homeschooling’. Two teachers came to the trailer park with lots of toys and playing-learning materials that are usually present in a toddler’s classroom.

“Parents have many concerns about the school: ‘What if my child is hungry or thirsty? Will somebody notice it and take care?’ By showing in their own environment how a toddler’s class is organized – with lots of toys and playful learning moments – they get acquainted with the benefits of schooling: ‘Look, it seems that he is just playing with little boxes, but he’s learning to count at the same time!’”

Lies, homeschooling teacher

Homeschooling had a positive effect. Parents and children got a better idea of what happens at school. They started to foster the idea of sending their children to school more regular and were more and more reassured that early school participation was important and an added value.

“The homeschooling period was a very good warming up, building positive experiences and gaining more trust in ‘the real thing’. Because of the support of many services and people, this was successful. Other practical problems still remain, such transportation to the school.”

Tim, social worker, city of Leuven

Due to these actions, the school supporting part of the project has been very successful: 90% of the children of the trailer park were attending school on September 1st, 2021. This is the result of many persistent actions of the ROL-team, two homeschooling teachers, other school teachers and directors.

“In August I went to visit all the families at the trailer park. You can call it a ‘motivation visit’. I wanted to prepare them that the first school day is coming. That helps a lot. On the first school days it is important to take away the worries of parents. We send them pictures and texts  to show them that their child is happy here and he’s got a lot of friends. Many parents can’t imagine their children sitting next to non-Travellers-children…”

Annick, school director

Thanks to the efforts of many, the transition from the trailer park to school is now much better. Still, it remains a precarious process, partly due to the corona pandemic, but there is much motivation among all partners to keep up the efforts when children talk about their experiences at school positively.


[1] Rom is one of the three groups of Roma population in Belgium. The other two are Travellers and Manouches/Sinti.

Toy Libraries in Kosovo Help Children’s Development

Toy Libraries are a stimulating environment promoting early learning, and child development were established in Kosovo to increase the participation of Roma children in early education.

Toy Libraries were established in two schools in the municipality of Prizren – the second most populous city and municipality of Kosovo. The classrooms that were designated for learning center activities have been adjusted and redesigned to serve as Toy Libraries. In those classrooms, Roma parents can borrow high-quality educational toys and other materials – books, sound books, geometric shapes – for their children to use at home.

“Considering that during the day I am busy with household obligations, I spend up to two hours, 3-4 times a week playing with toys with my children. We also read books from the Toy Librarywith fairy tales and stories. In class, we read fairy tales twice a week, for one hour, according to the schedule planned for the use of the Toy Library,” says Elvan Galushi – a mother of two sons from Prizren. “Toy Library has had a positive impact on my relationship with my children. Through this activity, I have given my children and myself the time to learn and play together. Our family is unable to buy these toys because of the difficult economic conditions, and borrowing helped us a lot. My son has the opportunity to borrow his favorite toy and plays with them every day after school.”

So far, Toy Libraries have 85 members who are Roma parents and 87 Roma children aged 0-8 years. There are 397 toys and 12 books available in total.  KRAEEYN project has donated 149 of the items and also provided hygienic materials.

Ivan Ivanov, REYN Bulgaria: “We Can Achieve More Together”

Established in 2018, REYN Bulgaria offers positive role models in the field of early childhood development, improves the quality of education, to more effectively integrate health care and education in the early years, with an emphasis on nutrition. Bulgarian REYN is uniting efforts for advocacy in the field of early childhood development with a focus on improving access, quality, and results in health care for children from the Roma community. Today we are talking about this with REYN Bulgaria coordinator Ivan Ivanov.

– What are REYN’s priorities? What are the short-time and long-time goals?

– The short-time priorities of REYN Bulgaria are to provide regular opportunities for professionals to exchange good teaching practices and methods for working with Roma children and parents.

The long-term priorities of REYN Bulgaria are to become an informational platform for professionals and to develop successful Role models at an early age who can increase the trust of Roma parents in educational institutions and improve the educational achievement of the Roma children and students.

One of the long-term priorities of REYN Bulgaria is to support the process of creating a professional community that develops active advocacy measures and actions which may positively reflect on improving the conditions for working with Roma children and parents.

– What is the current situation with young Roma children in your country, taking into consideration the COVID-19 pandemic?

– The current situation is not stable at all. The mortality in Bulgaria has become increasingly higher during the past month. The percentage of vaccinated people is really low, around 20%. Right now, we are on the edge of a full lockdown of the entire country. Most of the children in Bulgaria, not only the Roma kids, face a lot of challenges in many aspects. The kindergartens and schools are closed, and all children are being homeschooled. The main communication channel with the most vulnerable children and families are the educational mediators. The educational mediators are working mainly in the neighborhoods, as well as in the remote rural areas with children from vulnerable groups – children at risk of dropping out of the education system, children from ethnic minorities, children from socially disadvantaged families.

The lack of social contact has had a largely negative impact on the educational progress of children who usually hear Bulgarian only at school. In some cases, the older children take care of their younger siblings who, after closing the educational institutions, are left at home, as well as to help the younger ones in the distance learning process at school.

We are trying to be flexible as much as we can, in order to meet some of the main needs – of the teachers and professionals who work with Roma children and the needs of the Roma children and parents.

– What is the most recent intervention that REYN carried out?

– One of the recent interventions is the program for small grants of REYN, “How to raise smart and strong children,” which aims to improve the efficiency and capacity of specialists focusing on early learning and care. Тhe project connects REYN and a local NGO. It raises awareness on the importance of preparing healthy and nutritious meals as a prerequisite for solid brain development, which affects later success in school. The initiative has already included more than 700 parents.

– What is one success of REYN that you are (most) proud of?

– We are really proud that during the last two years, within the REYN Internship program, which supports the process of introducing positive role models, we have recruited almost 20 interns, 10 NGOs on a national level, and more than 10 kindergartens which have been involved in the implementation of these project activities.

We also managed to implement more than 30 REYN regional member events both ( in-person and online), sharing good teaching practices for working with Roma parents and children, based on the REYN resources and videos created or translated during the year.

– What is your message to the policy-makers of your country – what would you ask them or tell them if you had one minute to talk to them?

– Based on our professional experience, I believe we can learn and work together. When I visit Roma kindergartens and schools, I’m always shocked, and the only thing that goes through my mind is: do we really do anything to help these children? Do all these actions, strategies, and plans meet the real need of these children and their families? Can we find a way to work together in these difficult times in order to support the most vulnerable ones amongst us? What do you think?

– How does REYN engage with the members (individual and organizational)? How many members do you have?

– At the moment, REYN Bulgaria consists of 249 REYN members (109 institutional and 140 individual). One of the main channels we use for our communication is our REYN website, where we post updates about our activities and news generated on behalf of TSA and the REYN members. In order to recruit new REYN members, we publish updates and blog articles on the Trust for Social Achievement’s website, which is the host organization of REYN Bulgaria.

– What is REYN’s dream for Roma children in your country?

– Our dream is that all Roma children could receive the support and additional resources they need to reach their full potential. We also dream of having more positive role models and ambassadors for an actual change in the country.

– Why should someone join REYN?

– We believe that we can achieve more together, especially now, when we have the strongest need for support and new perspectives. When we broaden the REYN community, we also broaden our horizon of professional insights, beliefs, and hopes.

Promoting ECEC Professions Among Roma Through Workshops for Families

There is still room for improvement in the promotion of education among Roma in the field of Early Education and Care (ECEC) in Slovenia. Some specific activities can help in promoting ECEC professions among Roma, and the research that analyzed the number of Roma professionals in the field, conducted by Slovenian REYN Network in 2018, proves it.

There are no recent data on the rate of successfully finished education on a higher level by the Roma students. An evaluation study reports that around 500 Roma children among 4 350 finished primary school in 2005-2009. This means that around 60% of Roma children, who were enrolled in primary school, successfully finished their primary education. Even though this information is not up to date, it still indicates that there is much room for improvement on the promotion of education among Roma in general or specifically in the field of ECEC.

The Educational Research Institute that led the research, invited two Roma preschool teachers to visit some Roma settlements in Slovenia and present their job and work experiences. 13 parents, 8 preschool children, and 24 school children attended these workshops in three different Roma environments. These activities introduced the profession of a preschool teacher to parents and children and encouraged them to apply for a secondary or higher school to employ in this field.

The preschool teachers spoke about their profession and shared a video, which showed their routine work in the preschool. The final part of the workshop was dedicated to creative activity, through which they presented an aspect of their work in the preschool. Children and parents together created, for example, a glass lantern.

Children were impressed by these presentations, and some of them even pretended to be preschool teachers during the discussion. They enjoyed watching the video and looking at how a preschool by the Roma settlement was working.

“We could also have such a preschool in our settlement!” said one of the girls from the audience.

After the workshop, some children’s mothers requested more information about vocational retraining in education, which would allow them to get a job as preschool teacher assistants.

In some settlements, though, parents did not show much interest in the presentation – in some cases, the workshop facilitators sensed that parents felt a bit inferior to them, in some cases parents sounded quite pessimistic.

“Education does not ensure you a job if you are Roma,” shared one parent, while some other parents would be eager to get educated in this field, but lack financial support in fulfilling this wish.

The preschool teachers plan to have the same workshops also in the future.

“When planning such events, it is important to carefully choose the facilitator, a secure and known place, and ensure an informal atmosphere. Then the participants are more relaxed and open to ask questions. If they receive relevant information in an appropriate manner, parents could be empowered to encourage their children to decide for the profession, which we present,” concluded the preschool teachers, who conducted the workshops.

REYN Ukraine Member Anastasia Tambovtseva Teaches Children Written Romani Language

Anastasia Tambovtseva is a linguist, who practices foreign language teaching. She is also a well-known TikTok blogger who runs an educational Romani blog. Anastasia researches the problems of getting an education among the Roma population and introduces her own unique methods and tools.

Anastasia joined REYN Ukraine network two years ago. During this time, she took part in 10 webinars for network members, a notebook for writing in Romani language and an author’s webinar “Modern technologies as a tool to overcome illiteracy” for REYN Ukraine members. She also won REYN Ukraine micro-grants competition that was aimed at testing and implementing innovations in the field of Roma children early development.

Anastasia, you are the winner of REYN Ukraine micro-grants competition. What was the idea of ​​your project?

– I have developed a notebook for Roma children, which is called “How to learn the letters in Romani language”, and, thanks to the support of REYN Ukraine, I will be able to publish it and disseminate it within schools with Roma students and educational centers. This tool is great for studying the letters of the Romani alphabet, for learning how to write them. It is very strange to start teaching children how to write not in their native language, so if children speak in Romani at home and think in Romani, it is better to teach them writing in their native language. Sometimes a child does not understand why writing and reading are important, if everyone at home expresses themselves orally.

How will your notebook help Roma community?

– I really hope that in the nearest future this notebook will help to create even more educational materials for children in Romani language. First of all, the child gets acquainted with the letters: what do the uppercase and lowercase letters look like. There are also pictures with words that start with this letter. Besides, there are also some tasks – like finding a word that starts with this letter, and so on. In this way, children train their attention.

There are many Romani dialects though. In which dialect of Romani language will the notebook be published?

– It will be in Vlax Romani. The choice fell on Vlax, because Roma community in the area where I live is Vlax, so I studied this dialect and I understood that without knowledge of the language I will never be close to children. It was difficult to learn it since it is not English or German and there are not many materials with which you can learn to speak Romani. I like learning and spend most of my time in front of a computer screen or with books. Therefore, whoever wants – can find materials and study. I’m still learning. In my telegram channel, I sometimes ask how to say this word and my subscribers write comments and respond to the stories. We have disputes and very interesting discussions from time to time. I believe that I am still learning this language.

When you first had a lesson with your students in Romani language, what was their reaction?

– It was the reaction I wish all teachers could experience in their professional lives. My first lessons I had in Russian. We learned the letters, and when we learned how to write and pronounce some of them, I thought I would write Romani words. It was the word “dad” (dad) and the word “dorov” (hello) children froze it in astonishment. At first I did not understand why. I thought perhaps because it was their native language and that is why they reacted like that. Something inside told me that there was some deeper reason though. Then, when I attended REYN Ukraine webinar about the oral cultural tradition and the peculiarities of communication with Roma children conducted by Marianna Seslavinska, I realized that children believe that they could write and read in any language but Romani. When children saw that it was possible to write in Romani, for them it was a big surprise. Therefore, after that I started to teach the Romani language more. At that time I already knew it better and I felt that I had a more strength to teach in Romani. I hope that for Roma the education is more accessible. I am grateful to REYN Ukraine that it is becoming more and more like this.

– Are you Roma yourself? How did you become interested in Roma theme?

I am not Roma. I am often asked by Roma what my nationality is. It is actually hard for me to say. My ancestors are  of different nationalities. The ones I am aware of are Ukrainians, Russians, Polish and Georgians. Maybe even more.
I became interested in Roma because I met some Roma families due to my tutoring. Then I started to learn about the situation with Roma children in schools, and I wanted to teach Roma children literacy in their native language. One of the reasons for the difficulties of Roma children in school is the language barrier, because Ukrainian is the mostly spoken language at schools. In Kyiv region Roma speak Romani or Russian. Very few of them know the Ukrainian language, and obviously, the child gets into a new environment, where they also speak another, new language…

What is your online blog about?

– I started shooting and publishing online in various social networks because in this way my students could study at home on their smartphones. The first topic of my blog is learning, the opportunity to learn letters, sounds and reading by yourself. It is literacy training. The second direction is the history of Roma people. This information is not only for Roma, but also for people of other nationalities or origins, for everyone who is interested in learning about Roma history. Another area is socially useful information for Roma people. Ukraine is currently undergoing medical reform, so I tell how to sign a contract with a doctor, how to get a passport etc. We had a live broadcast with professionals working in this field, and they also gave some useful advice. Later I wrote a post about it and now Roma can benefit from this information.

Reducing Digital Gaps for Children of Marginalized Groups in Kosovo

30 families from the Roma community in the Municipality of Gracanica, Kosovo received tablets from Kosova Education Center (KEC), the hosting organization of REYN Kosovo. This was done to protect children in emergency situations, support parents in the daily routine with children and stimulate children in the home environment, especially during and post COVID-19 pandemic.

Children who attend the pre-primary (preparatory) level of education as well as the first graders will use their tablets for online learning and doing other learning center activities.

“The Ministry of Education and Science failed to take into account the needs of students from the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities when it started organizing distance learning. Furthermore, the Ministry does not have data on the inclusion of students from these communities in online learning,” says KEC project manager Bora Shpuza Kasapolli. “The distance-learning broadcast started on March 23, 2020, where students in Kosovo attended home lessons through the Kosovo Public Radio and Television (RTK). Communities at the risk of poverty found it more difficult to attend school because of the new way of schooling online. While other communities had 3.4% absence, in these communities absence went up to 10%. It is clear that the pandemic has negatively affected the process of education, especially among the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities.”

Because of no technological equipment at home, children could not communicate with their teachers. Many of them had to send their homework to the teachers over the parents’ phones. During conversations with the parents, KEC representatives found out that children like learning in school more than learning from home, due to the lack of technological equipment.

“In this regard, the provision of tablets was necessary and very useful for providing access to technology and increasing the participation of children from Roma, Egyptian, and Ashkali communities in the learning process. Having access to information and communications technology, it enabled them to re-establish connections with their educators and attend the education process on a regular basis, ensuring the continuity of academic development. It also helped them maintain relationships with their peers, which is a crucial factor for psychosocial wellbeing,” continues Bora Shpuza Kasapolli.

Beneficiaries have been selected by the local organization Balkan Sunflowers Kosova, also a member of the REYN board. This organization manages and directs the learning center in Gracanice, where curricular and extracurricular activities and various educational programs take place. Children who got their tablets also attend this learning center after school for homework assistance and other specific needs.

“Learning has become easier for our children because nowadays it is taking place online, so for us provision of tables has been very helpful. The tablets have enabled us as parents to spend more time with our children at home,” shares Miliam Jashari – a parent of a child who has got a tablet.

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