By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
ZEIST, NETHERLANDS (BosNewsLife)– Dutch Christians have gathered in the central Netherlands to prevent the deportation of an Afghan Christian family amid fears they may be killed back home for their faith.
Dozens of protestors were in front of a detention center in the town of Zeist after Dutch authorities said they would deport the Afghans to Afghanistan. Those on the expulsion list include the parents, their two daughters, aged 11 and 13, and three sons who are 19, 15, and 5 years old.
People rallying against these plans arrived by bus on Sunday, December 15, from the town of Burgum in the Dutch coastal province of Friesland, where the Afghans had been living for four years. The protesters were seen praying, singing songs, and walking around the detention facility.
The Afghan family was taken by security forces from Burgum to Zeist after they exhausted all legal means to halt their deportation. Dutch authorities so far refused to consider a children’s amnesty for the minors.
The family claims they face persecution in Afghanistan because they converted to Christianity from Islam. But the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service doesn’t believe their conversion story and insists on sending them back to Afghanistan, local media reported.
The family was transported from Burgum to the detention center last week, despite appeals from their local Reformed-Liberated church. Pastor Marco Buitenhuis told reporters that he baptized several members of the family and said they are at “great risk” in Afghanistan, a strict Islamic nation.
“The Dutch government says that they are no Christians. But these are faithfull visitors of our church,” Buitenhuis explained. “Last Sunday afternoon, we even celebrated the Lord’s Supper together. Back in Afghanistan, family members face danger if people their even suspect that they are Christians,” he added.
Well-informed rights group Open Doors confirmed that war-torn Afghanistan is an Islamic state by the constitution. “It means government officials, ethnic group leaders, religious officials, and citizens are hostile toward adherents of any other religion.”
Any expression of any faith other than Islam is not permitted to exist,
according to several sources. “All Afghan Christians converted from Islam and are not able to live their faith openly,” noted Open Doors. “Very often, there is only one possible outcome for exposed and caught Christians: They will be killed,” Open doors said.
“Neither radical Islamic groups nor a convert’s extended family shows mercy in this respect. Converts are considered insane to leave Islam, and some may end up in a psychiatric hospital and have their houses destroyed. The family, clan, or tribe has to save its “honor” by disposing of the Christian,” the group added.
Officially, there are no Christians in this 99 percent Muslim state, apart from the international military staff, diplomats, and non-governmental organization workers. But BosNewsLife established that Afghanistan has Christians worshiping underground amid hostility towards Christianity.
Local Christians are also concerned about the Taliban, a hardline Islamist movement that governed Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. In Taliban-controlled areas, the punishment for “apostasy,” or abandoning Islam, is death.
Several Christians, including missionaries, are known to have been killed in Afghanistan in recent years.
In 2006, an Afghan Christian convert who had faced the death penalty for abandoning Islam arrived in Italy, where he was granted asylum under then Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi.
Abdul Rahman’s departure happened as Afghanistan’s parliament demanded that the government prevent him from leaving the country.
But it remained unclear Monday, December 16, whether The Netherlands would still allow the Afghan family seeking refuge following overnight protests. Family members were not fully publicly identified amid security concerns.
The planned deportation added to anxiety among students and teachers at the local school of the youngest child, Ebrahim, in Friesland. They and others say that the Afghans have become “too much part of Dutch society” and can not return to Afghanistan.
The controversy was due to put pressure on especially two Dutch Christian parties to show leniency. They include the ChristianUnion and Christian Democrats, who are part of the liberal center-right government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Earlier this year, a Dutch church stopped the deportation of an Armenian family after a marathon three-month-long service aimed at halting their expulsion. A parliamentary deal will allow them, and hundreds of others, to stay.
It followed a broader political debate in the Netherlands about the number of migrants fleeing war, persecution, and poverty it is willing to take in.
Experts say The Netherlands already hosts up to 250,000 refugees, including some from former Soviet Union nations such as Armenia. But most arrived in recent years from conflict-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Somalia.