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Morocco: Christian Aid Workers Expelled

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Morocco, Breaking News, Humanitarian Response, Law, Religion, Youth
Saying goodbye (photo from the Village of Hope official website)

Saying goodbye to some of the orphans (photo from the Village of Hope official website)

Last week, 20 staff members of the Village of Hope [1], a small orphanage in a small town in rural Morocco, were deported from the country without warning, under charges of proselytizing. The Village has quietly existed for the past ten years, and is staffed mostly by Christians from Western countries.

Staff members claim they have always been transparent about their Christian identities to Moroccan authorities, without incident. For many of the children, the orphanage is the only home they have ever known.

The Village of Hope's official Web site [2] hosts a statement, endorsed by all of the staff members who were asked to leave the country, which reads:

On Monday 8th March, all 16 overseas workers, including 10 parents, and 13 natural-born dependents, were told they were to be evicted from the site and country.  The reason given was that the parents had been proselytizing, with no explanation of who, when, where or how this was alleged to have occurred.  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.

The Moroccan authorities have not produced any evidence of the alleged offence and they gave only a few hours for the parents to pack up belongings and explain to their children that they might never see them again.

Few media outlets have picked up on the story (the official Moroccan news agency [3] [FR]  is one), but a number of bloggers with personal connections to the Village have begun to spread word about the incident, some with hopes of returning the staff to Morocco. Blogger Elizabeth Shelby, a Christian worker who volunteered at the orphanage in the past, is calling for prayer from her community, but also is hoping to find explanation from the government as to why the sudden change of heart occurred. She writes [4]:

It has been over 24 hours since 20 workers (most, parents) at the Village of Hope [5] were taken from their children, unexpectedly by Moroccan officials. They were given thirty minutes to pack their belongings and leave the country, with no guarantee of ever seeing their Moroccan children again. The Village of Hope has been in compliance and worked with the Moroccan government for 10 years, and have had very few problems. As of January 4th, Morocco has a new Minister of Justice (ironic) Mohammad Naciri, one who feels he must exercise his power in order to shut down the Village of Hope because he believes “Christians are proselytizing.”

Shelby is also leading a campaign on Twitter, using the hashtag #MoroccoOrphans [6] and has started a Facebook group [7].

The Moroccan Dispatches has written a thoughtful piece exploring the various aspects of the government's decision, as well as the operations of the orphanage. In respect to both, the blogger writes [8]:

As I mentioned, it's hard to know what really is permissible and what is not in Morocco since a rule on the books does not necessarily mean anything. So perhaps, the Moroccan authorities turned a blind eye for the past few decades just as they do with alcohol, hashish, prostitution, and speeding. Or perhaps The Village of Hope hid some of their activities. I do not know.

An American blogger in Morocco writes [9] in with support for the Village:

[The Village's staff]  honestly thought they were complying with regulations, but were interrogated and deported with almost no time to pack or to say goodbye to the children. Orphans have a particularly hard lot in Islamic countries, where, even if adopted, they don't have the same rights as biological children, and even the Muslim Moroccans who worked with these kids got kicked off the premises, so there is not a single familiar face taking care of them right now. Please be in prayer for the children, for those who were deported, and for those who may still be deported. Its a rough situation, especially since Morocco has been considered a moderate nation which encourages peaceful relations between peoples of different faiths. Keep the people of this beautiful country in your prayers.