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What changed?

"What changed?" Continued...

Issue: "Profiles in effective compassion," April 24, 2010

By 4:00 p.m. on Monday, authorities told the foreigners they would leave Morocco that night. Broadbent says an official statement in French informed them that they were guilty of proselytizing but didn't offer any evidence.

Broadbent says the organization has always openly acknowledged that house parents are active Christians, but he says children also grow up learning about Islam, and that parents don't try to coerce Moroccan children to convert.

The foreigners who raised Moroccan children hope they can be reunited, and they insist the group's practices weren't hidden from authorities. "We were always very open," says Broadbent. "So we're saying: What changed?"

Michael Ramsey has the same question. Ramsey is a Christian businessman who has lived in Morocco for 15 years. He has no connection to VOH and says he hasn't worked with children during his stay. But he has done humanitarian work: Ramsey says he and two colleagues-including a Muslim-conducted community development projects, like job creation and education. Though he's open about his Christian beliefs, Ramsey says he's never had any problems with authorities.

That changed on March 6, the same day authorities approached both Williams and VOH in separate locations. When Ramsey arrived at a local café to meet a friend, plain-clothes policemen met him at the door. The officers took Ramsey to the main police station, where they interrogated him for two hours. Ramsey says he demanded several times that authorities tell him why they were detaining him. They told him the questioning was routine.

By 7:30 p.m., the chief of police told a different story, says Ramsey: "He said, 'We're revoking your residency, and we're expelling you from the country tonight.'" A flabbergasted Ramsey asked why, and he says the chief replied: "You know why." When Ramsey insisted that he didn't, he says the officer told him he didn't know either. For the rest of the evening, Ramsey says the officers said they were following orders from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rabat, the capital city.

Ramsey pleaded to stay in the country for a couple of days to handle his affairs. The authorities refused, but they allowed him to return home to his wife and daughter for the night. Ramsey arrived home near midnight. "My brain was going a thousand miles and hour," he said. "You can imagine spending 15 years in a job and a country, and somebody giving you eight hours to get yourself ready."

Ramsey didn't learn of the other deportations until leaving the country the next morning. An official at his embassy told him authorities expelled him for proselytizing, a charge he denies. He says Moroccan authorities haven't informed him of any evidence against him and never offered him a hearing.

Ambassador Mekouar says authorities didn't give any of the deportees hearings because they wanted to spare them prosecution and punishment. Ramsey balks at that explanation: "If they are accusing me of proselytizing, give me my day in court and allow me to defend myself."

While Ramsey contemplates his life outside Morocco, Janet Smith wonders if she'll get back into the country. The Christian humanitarian worker, who has lived in Morocco for over a decade, was out of the country when deportations began. She says the U.S. Consulate has told her that her name is on a no-entry list for Morocco. Her husband managed to get back into the country but is now afraid to go home.

Smith says a group of policemen raided their home while they were away. She says they questioned Moroccans and deported an American, all staying in the house as guests. Now her husband fears authorities will deport him if he returns to the area. For now, Smith says he travels from hotel to hotel, seeking legal help and trying to learn more about his case.

Smith says the separation has been difficult, but she's also distressed at the thought of being banned from Morocco. She says the couple has a good relationship with their community, and coordinates projects like healthcare clinics on a regular basis. "These people are precious," she says of Moroccans, "and it breaks my heart to think that there's a possibility that I might never get to go back and see them again."

Williams, the pro­fessor, says he has many friends in Morocco after 20 years, but he doesn't expect to be able to return. His deportation followed a similar pattern as Ramsey's expulsion, beginning with an unexpected interrogation. Williams says the authorities mostly asked him about the relationships between Christian organizations in Morocco. He says they asked about his friends and wanted to know about his connections with Moroccan Christians. Like Ramsey, Williams says authorities told him they were waiting on orders from Rabat. They deported him the next morning.

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