Turkey: New government order makes it easier to deport Christian workers

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By Mark Ellis

Twilight in Istanbul
Twilight in Istanbul

An emergency order issued Oct. 29th will expedite the process to deport expatriates from Turkey, another blow to Christian workers serving there from other countries. This month Turkish authorities ordered the deportation of two U.S. Christians.

The directive removes the requirement for a court decision before a foreigner can be deported. Now the government, specifically the Ministry of the Interior, can deport anyone it considers a threat to “public security” without a judicial order or review, according to Morning Star News.

The Christians ordered deported recently were accused of being security risks, a falsehood used against Christians since the time of Caesar.

The modification of the law is one of many made by the government following the failed coup attempt on July 15. Since then, the government enacted a “state of emergency” that allows it to suspend the law and imprison anyone it deems a threat to the country.

Officials say the emergency laws are needed to fight terrorists and those responsible for the attempted coup, but critics say the moves amount to a purge of anyone critical of the government, according to Morning Star.

There was already heightened concern among foreign Christians in Turkey about being deported or banned from returning to the country. Some have considered canceling Christmas travel plans.

“It’s just like they can come to your door and drag you out of your home, and there is nothing you can do about it,” one expatriate Christian who asked not to be identified told Morning Star. “It really makes no sense. They’re going after people who love the country, pray for it, help improve it and invest their money here, and not those who are really hurting the country.”

U.S. Christians, mainly those seen as “active” Christians, are being targeted by officials who see anyone who isn’t Sunni Muslim as a threat to national unity, public order and “Turkishness,” according to TEK spokesman Soner Tufan.

“American Christians are being targeted as a symptom of larger problems with the U.S.,” Tufan said, suggesting that shaky relations between the Turkish government and Washington have to do with Turkish dissatisfaction with extradition process of Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government claims was the architect of the coup attempt.

“Turkey wants that man from America, but they won’t give him to them,” Tufan observed.

The Turkish government is holding one U.S. Christian in a deportation center without charge. Andrew Brunson, the U.S. pastor of Izmir Dirilis Church, is trapped in a legal imbroglio. The government has issued a deportation order and lifetime ban against him for being “a national security risk” but refuses to deport him. They also refuse to release him on appeal of his charges.

On Oct. 7, Izmir police arrested Brunson and his wife Norine, telling them they would be deported in 15 days and banned from Turkey for life, according to Morning Star.

The couple was taken to the Izmir Immigration Centre and refused access to a U.S. consular official or lawyer, according to religious freedom advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC). They were confined together but denied clean clothes, medicine and other basic provisions until Oct. 13.

On Oct. 19, officials took Norine Brunson to receive a brief physical, told her that charges against her had been dismissed and released her.

Andrew Brunson remains confined in a detention center. The usual deadline for him to be deported has passed, and in spite of his signing government papers agreeing to be deported and the lack of any charges against him, the government refuses to release him.

Brunson was the second U.S. citizen the government ordered deported in October. On Saturday (Oct. 29), Ryan D. Keating, 39, a U.S. Christian and long-time time resident of Turkey, was reunited with his wife and four children in England after more than 20 days of separation when he was banned from reentering Turkey.

Keating, a doctoral student in Philosophy at Ankara University, was detained when he arrived at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on Oct. 16. Immigration officials told him that on Aug. 19, his residency permit had been revoked for “national security” reasons and the Ministry of the Interior had issued a lifetime ban on him entering Turkey. After a brief stay in the detention holding area of the airport, Keating was then placed on the first flight back to London.

Keating said he moved to Turkey in 2006, but his interest and attachment to the country started during a high school student exchange program. On his return in 2006 to start his doctoral studies, he became involved in his church and started a discipleship program and a ministry to aid refugees.

Keating told Morning Star News he thinks the reason he was expelled was because his ministries were “high profile.”

“Several of the church ministries I have developed or have been in charge of have been high profile, and in that sense I am an easy target for people who want to rid the country of Christians,” he said. “The work that we do with refugees is especially politically sensitive.”

Keating emphasized that neither he nor his wife have any affiliation with a political or ideological group in Turkey, “directly or indirectly.”

“We want to emphasize, we love Turkey and the people of Turkey,” he said. “We’ve not done anything illegal, and I’ve been careful throughout my time in Turkey to honor all of the rules and regulations about visas, about residency, about things related to our ministry that we do. So it’s especially disappointing when the government labels me as it has to kick me out unjustly.”

Keating is fighting the decision against him in court.

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