Christian aid worker purge? Morocco orders dozens in five cities to be deported.
Morocco has ordered dozens of Christian aid workers in five major cities to be deported this week, with a Western official saying there may be another wave. The expulsions call into question an unspoken but longstanding truce.
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While Morocco periodically expelled numerous Christian missionaries during the nationalistic decades following its independence from France, the past 10 years under King Mohamed VI have been marked by relative tolerance. That appears to have changed, Christian leaders in the country said.Skip to next paragraph
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Another wave of expulsions?
In the past week, police have expelled foreign Christians suspected of seeking converts from the cities of Fez, Tangiers, Essaouira, Rabat, and Marrakesh, according to interviews with pastors in several cities.
In recent days the Moroccan government has marked at least “several dozen” foreign nationals for expulsion, said one Western official who requested anonymity.
The spokesman for the US Embassy in Rabat, David Ranz, confirmed that Americans are among those Christians whom Morocco has declared unwelcome. Mr. Ranz declined to release specific numbers or names, but said Moroccan authorities have told the embassy “additional people will be expelled.”
Orphanage office manager: 'We weren't proselytizing'
Mr. Naciri, the government spokesman, said people of all faiths remain welcome to worship freely in Morocco so long as they don’t seek to “undermine” Moroccan Islam.
He cited recent moves the government has made against Islamist groups as evidence Christians aren’t being singled out, saying “the Moroccan government today deals harshly with anyone who manipulates the religion of the people.”
But the expelled volunteers from Village of Hope orphanage insist they were operating within the law.
“The fact of the matter is we weren’t proselytizing,” says Chris Broadbent, a New Zealander who managed the orphanage’s office until Monday, when he and his family fled to Spain. “We understood the rules.”
At the orphanage school, the children spoke Moroccan Arabic, studied the Koran, and learned Muslim prayers as stipulated by Moroccan law, Mr. Broadbent says. Outside of the classroom, it’s true Christians were raising the children in Christian households, but Broadbent says this was a fact about which no Moroccan official could pretend to be surprised.
“It was a clear, open, discussed, confirmed agreement with local authorities,” he says by phone. “We were looking after these children because no one else would.”
Another orphanage awaits next moves
A similarly delicate balance holds at another, older orphanage called Children’s Haven, run by Christians near the town of Azrou in the same region of Morocco.
“For the most part, the authorities think of us as doing a charitable service for Morocco,” says Jim Pitts, an American who’s been working with Children’s Haven for 51 years. At the orphanage, 10 foreigners are currently caring for 30 Moroccan children.
In recent days Moroccan investigators have visited the facility, says Pitts. He and his staff came here to do charitable work not proselytize, he maintains, adding that so far police have found nothing to contradict this claim.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with us,” he said. “We’ll see.”