Christian orphanage workers appeal deportation from Morocco

Village of Hope workers on Tuesday launched a public appeal to be reunited with the foster children they were forced to abandon.

A week after being expelled from the North African country over proselytism allegations, the Christian workers told reporters in Gibraltar that they were faced with a "painful situation".

"In doing this we are not trying to shame Morocco or the people," said Herman Boonstra, director of Village of Hope, according to the Gibraltar Chronicle. "We simply want to be reunited with our children and we are worried about their welfare."

They specifically appealed to the king of Morocco to enter into dialogue over the future wellbeing and care of the children.

For the past 10 years, the Christian workers have been serving as foster parents to some 33 orphaned or abandoned children. Village of Hope registered with the Moroccan government in 2002 as an official Christian organisation. And since then the children's home has operated with the full knowledge of the Moroccan authorities that the overseas workers are Christian.

The sudden eviction last Monday thus came as a surprise to them especially since no charges concerning the welfare and care of the children were ever raised by the Moroccan authorities, who in many cases placed children in their care.

"The eviction process was the most painful situation imaginable and was one of the hardest experiences of my life," Boonstra said, as reported by the local newspaper.

The 16 workers were only given a few hours to pack up and say goodbye to the children, some of whom have been with their foster parents for 10 years.

Boonstra explained, "The Moroccan authorities gathered the children together in the school and told them what was happening in the absence of all the parents. After that, I and the other parents had to further explain to the devastated children what was about to happen. The trauma caused was beyond description."

Village of Hope has denied allegations of trying to convert the children to Christianity and said they had always sought to abide by the Moroccan law prohibiting evangelism. The Moroccan authorities have yet to produce any evidence of the alleged offense.

The workers feel they have been caught up in a national crackdown against Christians living in Morocco.

Dr Malcolm Williams, a professor of translation, was arrested on proselytism charges and deported just days before the Village of Hope expulsion. He had been living in the predominantly Muslim country for over 20 years, he said at the press conference on Tuesday, and worked at the King Fahd School of Translation in Tangier. The professor said he still does not know why the accusation was made against him.

Village of Hope is currently collecting signatures from the people of Gibraltar to petition the Moroccan government's actions.

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