authorities deported more than 40 foreign Christian aid workers last week in an
ongoing, nationwide crackdown that included the expulsion of foster parents
caring for 33 Moroccan orphans.
Deportations of foreign
Christians continued at press time, with Moroccan authorities expressing their
intention to deport specifically U.S. nationals. Sources in Morocco told Compass
that the government gave the U.S. Embassy in Rabat a list of 40 citizens to be
Photo: Sixteen foster parents from the Village of Hope orphanage were deported last week.
The U.S. Embassy in
Rabat could not comment on the existence of such a list, but spokesperson David
Ranz confirmed that the Moroccan government plans to deport more U.S. citizens
for alleged “proselytizing.”
“We have been informed
by the Moroccan government that it does intend to expel more American citizens,”
said embassy spokesperson David Ranz.
Citing Western diplomats and
aid groups, Reuters reported that as many as 70 foreign aid workers had been
deported since the beginning of the month, including U.S., Dutch, British and
New Zealand citizens.
At the Village of Hope
orphanage near Ain Leuh, 50 miles south of Fez, the government on March
8 expelled 16 staff workers, 10 foster parents and 13 natural-born dependents
from the country. The orphanage arranges for orphaned children to live with a
set of foster parents rather than in a traditional dormitory setting, according
to its website.
Police first came to
the orphanage March 6, questioning children and looking for
Bibles and evidence of Christian evangelism; by late Sunday night they had told
all foster parents and staff that they had to leave on Monday.
New Zealand native
Chris Broadbent, a worker at Village of Hope, told Compass that the separation
of the foster families and the children under their care was traumatic. As much
as they hoped to be re-united, he said, that did not seem likely – officials
told them they could visit as tourists in the future, but in reality authorities
do not allow re-entry for those who have been expelled.
“At this stage, as much as we want to
see the parents get back with their kids, we understand that may be almost
impossible,” Broadbent said. “We’re not searching for scalps here, we don’t want
to harm Morocco or anything like that, but we want to see the parents re-united
with their children.”
that government accusations that they had been proselytizing were unfounded, and
that all staff had signed and adhered to a non-proselytizing policy.
“We were a legal
institution,” he said. “Right from the start they knew that it was an
organization founded by Christians and run by a mixture of Christians and Muslim
people working together.”
Authorities told orphanage officials
that they were being deported due to proselytizing but gave no evidence or
explanation of who, when, where or how that was supposed to have occurred,
according to a Village of Hope statement.
The orphanage had been
operating for 10 years. Moroccan authorities had never before raised any charges
about the care of the children, according to Village of Hope’s
In the village of
Azrou, about 100 miles east of Rabat, another orphanage called Children’s Haven
has been under investigation this week. Although it was still operating at press
time, sources said its 20 staff members were prepared for a fate similar to that
of Village of Hope, 30 minutes south.
“This action against
the Village of Hope was part of a nationwide crackdown against Christians living
in Morocco,” read a statement on Village of Hope’s website.
Some Christians in
Morocco attribute the change in the country, generally known for its tolerance
towards religious minorities, to the appointments of Mohammed Naciri as Minister
of Justice and Taieb Cherkaoui as Minister of Interior in January.
Communications Minister Khalid Naciri said the
government would be “severe with all those who play with religious values,”
reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).
A Moroccan pastor, his wife and a
relative were arrested on Wednesday [March 10] and released on the next day,
raising fears among local Christians that the wave of intolerance may spread to
the country’s small but growing church of nearly 1,000 believers.
An expert on religious
freedom in the Middle East who requested anonymity said that attacks on the
church are inevitable even in a Western-looking, modern country like Morocco, as
the church grows and becomes more visible.
“Because conversion is
a taboo, if the government looks like it is doing nothing in regard to all the
foreign missionaries that are coming and ‘corrupting’ the country and its
‘national soul,’ it gives credit to Islamists who could challenge the
‘Islam-ness’ of the Royal Family and the government, and that’s just what
Morocco can’t afford,” said the expert.
The clampdown on
foreign workers could signal government malaise toward the growing church.
“The more they grow,
the more visible they become, the more they’ll attract this reaction,” said the
expert. “And that’s why they’ve been so quiet with house groups. It’s just a
matter of time.”
Communications Minister Naciri
reportedly denied the new, tougher line against non-Muslims was a step backward
in terms of religious freedom in Morocco.
“Morocco has always
been and remains a land of openness and tolerance,” he told AFP. “The rare cases
of expulsion have nothing to do with the practice of Christianity but with acts
The children have
reportedly been placed in a care home.
As a signatory to the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Morocco’s accusations of
“proselytization” by foreign aid workers apparently contradict its pledge to
allow freedom to manifest one’s faith. Article 18 of the covenant affirms the
right to manifest one’s faith in worship, observance, practice or teaching.
The covenant also
states, however, that “freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be
subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to
protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and
freedoms of others.”
Previously the North
African country had a history of religious tolerance. Morocco’s constitution
provides for freedom to practice one’s religion, contradicting Article 220 of
the Moroccan Penal Code, which criminalizes any attempt to induce a Muslim to
convert to another religion.
In its 2009 international
religious freedom report, the U.S. Department of State noted that on April 2,
2009, a Moroccan government spokesman asserted that freedom of religion does not
include freedom to choose one’s faith.
fight against Christian proselytizing in accordance with law cannot be
considered among human rights abuses,” the Moroccan government spokesman said,
“for it is an action aimed at preventing attempts to undermine the country’s
immutable religious values. The freedom of belief does not mean conversion to
The crackdown this
month appears unprecedented, with only smaller groups previously deported. In
March 2009, Moroccan authorities expelled five foreign female Christians for trying to
“proselytize” although sources said they were foreign visitors merely attending
a Bible study with fellow Christians. In November
2009, police raided a Christian meeting in northern Morocco and expelled five
Last month a large,
military-led team of Moroccan authorities raided a Bible study in a small city
southeast of Marrakech, arresting 18 Moroccans and deporting a U.S.
In a message yesterday to
U.S. citizens registered with the embassy, U.S. Ambassador Samuel Kaplan
reportedly expressed concern about how the authorities conducted the
deportations. Foreign Christians were told their residence permits were
cancelled and that they had to leave the country immediately; they had no rights
to appeal or challenge the decision.
disheartened and distressed to learn of the recent expulsion by the Moroccan
government of a number of foreigners, including numerous Americans, who had been
legally residing in Morocco,” Kaplan said in a statement. “Although we expect
all American citizens to respect Moroccan law, we hope to see significant
improvements in the application of due process in this sort of