Morocco’s expulsion of Christians abusive?

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Sixteen Christian workers accused of religious “proselytism” were expelled from Morocco Tuesday. They were members of the Village of Hope, an orphanage located in the town of Ain Leuh, which fosters mostly abandoned children. They refute the “fight against proselytism” invoked by the Moroccan authorities.

Residents and leaders of a Christian orphanage, the Village of Hope (VOH), located near the town of Ain Leuh in Morocco, were expelled on Tuesday after extensive questioning and search by the Moroccan authorities. The Moroccan government, represented by Khalid Naciri, Communications Minister, accused the group of taking “advantage of the poverty of some families and targeted their young children, whom they took in hand, in violation of the kafala (adoption) procedures for abandoned or orphaned children”. The orphanage housed mostly abandoned children born out of wedlock.

A statement by Chris Broadbent, VOH human resources director, reveals that interrogations involving children and staff began on Saturday, March 6. And at no time was an explanation given “of who, when, where or how” the claims of proselytizing “was alleged to have occurred.” According to him, the police said they were operating under the authority of the national prosecutor, although “no charges concerning the welfare and care of the children have ever been raised as a concern by the Moroccan authorities in the 10 year history of VOH.”

Sunday night, the foreign nationals had their passports confiscated.

As “for the children, we don’t have much information,” project manager of La Gerbe, a Christian organization and VOH project partner, Michael Paita told “We do not know what will happen. Presumably, the children are still on the site with one of the five foster families, the only Moroccan foster family. It is however difficult to get information on what is happening on the ground,” he said.

Religious NGOs concerned

According to Philippe Fournier, president of La Gerbe, the Moroccan government wants to “identify extremists, which is not the case of VoH… Moreover, the organization was very well established locally and had good relations with the local authorities and the surrounding villages.”

The Village of Hope, which housed some 33 children –some for the past ten years– before the expulsion, was established by two American women, Emmagene Coates and Ellen Doran, over fifty years ago.

The decision came as a surprise to many Christian NGOs. “After the operation, we learnt that similar actions had already been conducted,” said Michael Paita. But “nothing foretold any of this. In fact, relations with the local authorities were very good which suggests that it is more of a political decision.”

The Moroccan government indicates that the expulsion falls within the framework of “the fight against attempts” to spread evangelical beliefs that “disturbs the faith of Muslims”. Khalid Naciri insists that “the rare cases of expulsion have nothing to do with the practice of Christianity but with acts of proselytism,” and that “all churches have their place on the street in Morocco and Christians practise their religion freely.”

Meanwhile, VOH has refuted the Moroccan authorities’ claims of “fight against proselytism” saying it is a calculated move on their part especially because VOH has never hidden its Christian ethos from them in their ten years of operation as a group that fosters abandoned children. They believe the “action against VOH was part of a nationwide crackdown against Christians living in Morocco”.

A statement released by VOH states that it is “not a missionary organisation and only exists to offer love, care and education to Moroccan children.”

On 5 February, the Moroccan government announced the expulsion of an American missionary caught in the “act of Christian proselytism (evangelization).” In December 2009, two South Africans, two Swiss and a Guatemalan were expelled for the same reasons.

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