Date: May 31, 2013
Court rules against Village of Hope, reversing ruling that it was a legal entity. By Our Middle East Correspondent
CAIRO, Egypt, May 31, 2013 (Morning Star News) – Expatriate Christians who ran an orphanage in Morocco until they were deported on charges of proselytism said yesterday they will take their fight to be reunited with the children to the Supreme Court if necessary.
An appellate court earlier this month delivered a verbal ruling in favor of the Moroccan government, which had deported Village of Hope staff members – many of whom lived with and raised the orphans as “foster” parents – and their birth children in 2010 as part of a larger purge of Christians from the country. The May 7 ruling by the Administrative Court of Rabat stated that Village of Hope has no legal status to file any claims. Village of Hope seeks to resume operation of the orphanage, near Ain Leuh, 50 miles south of Fez.
Village of Hope workers said there is still uncertainty about the appellate court ruling.
“The problem with news about the court case is that we have no written verdict of the court as yet, and so we do not know exactly what has been decided by the court, and more importantly what the motivation of the judge(s) is/has been,” said Herman Boonstra, one of the Village of Hope workers. “Whatever the case may be, our lawyers will be ready to take it to Supreme Court level if necessary.”
The state’s appeal this month came after an October 2012 oral ruling, released in writing in January, stipulating that the association was a legitimate legal entity with the right to seek legal redress of grievances. The May 7 ruling could shatter the group’s legal claim to the orphanage, which is operating under state-appointed leadership, and enable the government to control the assets of Village of Hope, valued at more than $1 million, former workers said.
One foster parent of the Village of Hope, Colin Dickinson of the United Kingdom, said he thinks the appellate court issued its ruling to avoid embarrassment over a court contradicting the government.
“I think the decision was annulled for face-saving,” Dickinson told Morning Star News. “We will appeal.”
He and others say they are heart-broken over what happened.
“We live our daily existence hoping to be allowed to return and care for our children,” he said. “We have no closure, and the children and local community friends are always in our thoughts.”
The deportation of the staff members and their birth children, 39 people in all, was part of a 2010 purge in which the government rounded up foreign Christians, interrogated them and expelled them with little or no warning. In all, from March 2010 to July 2010, at least 128 expatriate Christians were expelled. None were afforded due process, and only a few were given official deportation papers.
The government accused the deportees of proselytizing, although Village of Hope had a strict policy against proselytism. Article 220 of the Moroccan Penal Code bans proselytizing, which carries a penalty of between six months and three years in prison and a fine of up to 500 dirhams (US$60).
In the purge, numerous foreign workers who had left the country, many of them aid workers, were turned back at Morocco’s borders when they tried to return.
The deportations were accompanied by raids from police looking for Bibles and other Christian literature. In at least in two cases, Moroccan Christians were beaten.
In the case of the Village of Hope, police came to the orphanage two days prior to the expulsions looking for Bibles and evangelistic literature.
Village of Hope was caring for 33 children when the deportations happened. Founded 10 years earlier, orphanage staff members prided themselves on placing the children in more traditional, emotionally supportive family settings, as opposed to running a facility where children are warehoused in group dorms.
Some of the Village of Hope deportees have been able to reenter the country on tourist visas, but Dickinson said he receives updates about the children he and his wife essentially raised as “foster parents” through his embassy. He said he is adamant about the fight for the children he had to leave in Morocco, including two boys, ages 5 and 6.
“Would you give up if they were your children?” he said. “We raised them in family groups, so I am fighting to care for my boys again.”
Those expelled lost almost everything they had and were forced to start life over again, but always with the expectation they might return to the children in Morocco.
“We did not cope well initially with the loss of our children, home, job and belongings,” Dickinson said. “We have rebuilt our life in the UK in the expectation that at some point we will return, so life is very fragile here. I miss each one of the children and am honored that I could play a small part in giving them a hope for the future. I grieve that I cannot walk with my boys and answer them when they ask, ‘Why?’”
Photo: Fiona Dickinson and husband Colin long to be reunited with the two boys they were raising at the orphanage. (Morning Star News photo courtesy of Colin Dickinson)