By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
RABAT, MOROCCO (BosNewsLife)– A baby boy was reportedly fighting for his life Saturday, March 13, after Moroccan authorities expelled his Christian foster parents and some 70 other foreign Christian aid workers for allegedly trying to convert local Muslims.
Several of those targeted in the nationwide crackdown cared for 33 Moroccan orphans at the Christian orphanage Village of Hope (VoH) in the town of Ain Leuh, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of the country’s city of Fez.”On Monday March 8, all 16 overseas workers” from New Zealand, “including 10 parents, and 13 natural-born dependents, were told they were to be evicted from the site and country,” VoH said in a statement.
“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.”
Morocco’s Communications Minister Khalid Naciri defended the decision saying the Christians had violated the Islamic country’s religious traditions and legislation banning proselytizing.”They changed their behaviour to begin doing missionary work with young children. This decision is not against one religion or another. Morocco is, and will remain, open-minded and tolerant,” Naciri said in published remarks.
Moroccan authorities said there were responding to complaints by people who live near the orphanage who said Christians were targeting children under age 10, and according to the Interior Ministry “exploiting some families’ poverty” to proselytize.
However VoH denied the allegations. “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 neversee them again.”
VoH’s expelled foster parents said in a declaration, seen by BosNewsLife, that they were concerned about the welfare of the children they were forced to leave behind, including an infant named Simo, who has been diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy, a movement disorder marked by involuntary muscle contractions, and related complications.
“Without VoH’s immediate intervention and action, Simo would have died…We have been informed that Simo had a very bad night after his parents departed, and that within 15 hours of his mum and dad being torn from him, he was taken to a hospital to be cared for, as the temporary Moroccan staff were unable to cope with his needs.”
The foster parents said Simo was born to a single teenage mother with mental health problems who abandoned him at the facility on the day of his birth. “Within hours of his arrival, he developed breathing problems, and was rushed to hospital, where he stopped breathing and was revived” by its Dutch nurse.
Moroccon authorities later returned the baby to VoH where he arrived “malnourished, and extremely unwell” as he was only able to be fed through a tube, “and then only in in very small” amounts, the parents said.
“He weighed only 2.79 kilograms, less than his original birth weight. Simo required, and received, one-on-one nursing care from our qualified Dutch and British nursing staff 24-7 for several months. Once Simo began putting on weight and his health improved, he was placed permanently with [two] of [our] parents, who have provided him with love and all the other essential needs of a little baby.”
Simo remained with his foster parents and nine siblings for the past year, “up until the day that they were evicted,” VoH said. “With a strict medication and care regime from his parents and our nursing staff, he became a happy, healthy little boy with a future and a hope…He was a happy and very healthy little boy who, whilst very handicapped, was well provided for and continues to be loved as a son and brother by his parents and siblings.”
His expelled parents, who were not identified, said they hope “he continues to receive the special care that he requires, that people will be permitted to visit and hold him, to talk to him and let him know that he is still loved.”
Ultimately, they said, “We want to see Simo back in the arms of his loving parents and siblings, restored to the love and hope that he so deserves.”
Western governments have expressed concern about the expulsions, saying the foreign workers should have been given the chance to defend their activities in a court.
“We are not talking about people who were in Morocco a few weeks to hand out bibles,” added Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen. “It involves persons who have been taking care of children peacefully for 10 years.” Western aid workers have also warned it could impact relations with the European Union and foreign investments.
Dutch, British, and American Christian aid workers have also been expelled from Morocco in the past week, according to diplomats and aid groups.
“We were 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,” United States Ambassador Samuel Kaplan said in a statement.
The U.S. Embassy said the government has identified “several” other Americans for deportation, but it declined to give specific names or numbers.
Pastors in several cities said they believe this is a “coordinated campaign” to purge the country of evangelists. Jack Wald, who has been pastor of the protestant Rabat International Church for 10 years, said last week has been like going to sleep and waking up in a different country.
Jean-Luc Blanc, who heads Casablanca’s Evangelical Church of Morocco, said the expulsions are unusual for the Moroccan government. “If they want to expel all the missionaries who are working clandestinely in Morocco, they will have to expel hundreds of people,” he told the Voice of America (VOA) network.
In the past, Blanc said, the government would expel one or two missionaries a year.”But this time, it has been a large group all at once” and, he said, “there will be more.” There is also concern amond church leaders that the crackdown could impact the tiny Christian community in this Islamic nation where Muslims comprise nearly 99 percent of the over 31 million people.
However VoH’s foster parents said they do not give up hope. “We openly and unashamedly appeal directly to [Morocco’s] King, as a father himself, to act with mercy and help us reach a point of compromise and reunite the 33 children with the only parents they know,” they wrote.