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U.S. priest says Sudanese couple may face death with deportation (Religion of Peace Alert!)

12/16/2005 10:47pm

Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNS) -- For Mustafa, Christmas was going to be the most important day of his life -- not only was he going to be baptized a Catholic, but he was also to marry the woman who introduced him to Jesus.

Now he and his bride-to-be are somewhere in their home country, Sudan, U.S. Jesuit Father Martin McDermott told Catholic News Service.

Because Mustafa, a Muslim, is a known catechumen, there is danger that he will be killed in Sudan, the priest said.

Many Sudanese seek refuge in Lebanon from their war-torn homeland, arriving illegally from Syria. They can enter Syria without a visa, but most choose not to stay, fearing the Syrian police might send them back to Sudan.

When Mustafa entered Lebanon in 2002, he applied to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees for refugee status, but the agency decided he was not a refugee and closed his file, said Father McDermott, who serves Lebanon's migrant community.

Like their fellow migrant workers in Lebanon who do not have an entry visa and working papers, Mustafa and his wife-to-be, Mary, eked out an existence through a series of odd jobs, living in constant fear of being discovered by the police.

In late November, police raided their home and Mary's passport was confiscated. Because Syria is indicated as the last entry, she was in danger of being deported to Syria.

Mustafa could have lingered in prison, with no hope for release without the proper legal papers, or go back to Sudan. But, when the Lebanese authorities proposed putting the couple on a plane to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, they accepted the risk so they could stay together.

Father McDermott said he called the U.N. refugee agency offices in Beirut.

"I told the assistant to the protection officer that Mustafa was living as a Christian and known to be preparing for baptism. Most of the Sudanese know this, and therefore it would be very dangerous for him to be shipped back to Khartoum," Father McDermott said. "Muslims who become Christians are to be killed, according to Muslim law, which the Sudanese government takes very seriously."

The priest said he requested that Mustafa's file be reopened and that he be given protection as a religious refugee, but the "bureaucrats at the U.N. refugee agency did nothing, so Mustafa is at terrible risk when he lands in Khartoum."

Mustafa and his fiance were to arrive in Khartoum Dec. 13. If they made their way safely through the airport, they could travel to south Sudan where they would be out of danger. Their first priority, if they made it to the South, would be to find a priest to baptize Mustafa and to marry them.

"Mustafa and Mary need a lot of prayers, especially these few days," said Father McDermott. "I asked them to contact me after they arrive so I will know what happened. If I hear nothing, I will presume Mustafa is a martyr."

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