By Stefan J. Bos, Special Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Turkey is expelling foreign Christians as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeks to increase support from conservative Islamic leaders, rights investigators told Worthy News.
“So far this year, the number of those forced to leave the country has already reached sixteen, “confirmed advocacy group Voice of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC).
“Last year, at least thirty-five foreign Christian workers were expelled from Turkey. Their permits had been either revoked or denied renewal,” the group added, citing several sources.
The latest of those workers are Joy Subasigüller and Pastor Zach Balon, both from the United States, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
“On June 5, Joy was told that her residency permit had been revoked, even though she has resided in Turkey for nearly ten years and is married to a Turkish pastor named Lütfü. The couple, who have three young children (all Turkish citizens), have appealed, but such appeals are regularly denied,” added VOMC.
Pastor Zach Balon is pastor of the New Hope Church in Istanbul. “He was about to fly on a trip with his family on June 24 when he was told that he wouldn't be allowed to return to Turkey once he left. He immediately canceled the flight and filed an appeal,” VOMC added.
All notified Christians had the necessary legal documentation and visas, “yet they were subjected to deportation, ” the group stressed.
Rights investigators and local believers have complained of a new crackdown on Christianity. VOMC told Worthy News that it is part of government efforts “to strengthen President Erdogan's support among conservative Islamic elements.”
It comes at a time when Turkey’s economic woes, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, are increasingly forcing President Erdogan to consider early elections, analysts say.
The next presidential and parliamentary elections are three years away. But commentators suggest he will need Islamic support and that waiting for 2023 could undermine President Erdogan’s re-election bid.
Turkey’s embattled Christians comprise less than 0.2 percent of the country’s mainly Muslim population of 82 million people, according to official estimates. President Erdogan has come under international pressure over his perceived autocratic style.