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Afghan Catholic's future still uncertain

Local

More than six months after being detained, the future of an Afghan parishioner from the Adelaide Cathedral parish remains uncertain.

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Mohammed Mahdi Rafee, formerly a Shiite Muslim who converted to Christianity in 2017, has been in a Kilburn detention facility since December 13 last year following an unsuccessful request for a Ministerial Intervention into his application for a visa.

Of Hazara origin, Rafee told The Southern Cross in January that he fears he will be killed because of his religious beliefs if he is forced to return to Afghanistan. Christian organisation Open Doors ranks Afghanistan as the second worst country for Christian persecution on its World Watch list.

Rafee fled Afghanistan and came to Australia in 2012 after a series of intimidating incidents involving the Taliban which saw him abandon his university course in Kabul.

Since his detention, many members of the Cathedral parish have written letters of support for Rafee to their local MPS and the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. Some have also visited him at the detention facility.

Sarah Castree, who first met Rafee in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, has been visiting him for a couple of hours every fortnight.

“Before Rafee was detained I was impressed that a recent immigrant wished to convert to Catholicism, but I did not know how dangerous it is to be a Christian convert in Afghanistan,” Sarah explained.

“A cursory internet search demonstrates how dangerous it is. In 2006 an Afghan convert to Christianity, Abdul Rahman, was charged with apostasy, and threatened with execution. It was only through international pressure from the US, UK and Italy that he was eventually released and granted asylum in Italy.

“There are also numerous instances of the Taliban kidnapping and murdering foreign aid workers whom they suspect of preaching Christianity. Sometimes mob justice is carried out as well.  In 2015 Farkhunda Malikzada, an Afghan woman, was beaten to death in Kabul after being falsely accused of burning the Koran.

“I thought that if Rafee were in any danger he would be granted a protection visa. Unfortunately however, he converted only after his visa application process had come to an end and therefore the government has never considered his case on the grounds of his conversion to Christianity.”

Sarah said that is why she had written to the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton asking that Rafee be invited to reapply for a visa.

“I have also written again to inform the Minister of more information that I have learnt from Rafee about his family’s situation in Afghanistan, which I believe is relevant to his safety if he were to be deported.”

Sarah said Rafee had told her that his home village in Ghazni had been informed of his conversion to Christianity by Afghans he knew in Australia. Far from being happy to hear this, people in his village had questioned his wife and brother over his conversion. His brother was able to withstand this questioning but his wife was under pressure to divorce Rafee and remarry.

“Obviously Rafee does not want his wife to leave him and remarry, and his wife does not wish to remarry either.

“Rafee cannot expect to return to his home village and resume his life without incident. Even if he were to avoid his home village and live elsewhere, keeping his conversion a secret, he would live in constant fear that his new village would be told of his conversion and would persecute him.”

Despite the persistent fear of deportation, Sarah said Rafee remained in “good spirits”. She added that Rafee’s faith was helping him to cope.

“Rafee’s faith is important to him, especially now that there is nothing he can do for himself or his family other than pray. He has a copy of the Bible in Persian which he reads every night and a Sister comes to the detention centre most Sundays to pray with the Catholics there and to dispense communion.”

Sarah said she believed Rafee he would fit into Australian society.

“He has converted to Christianity, the religion which has shaped our society and its ethics. He does not wish to change our culture, but to become part of it.

“He also speaks good basic English. He can operate in our society and converse in simple English. While he was able to work he held a job. He is not asking for welfare, only to be allowed to stay and work in Australia.”

She urged anyone wanting to show their support for Rafee to write to the Immigration Minister and their local MP.

For information on how to support Rafee contact Br Martyn Paxton on martynpaxton@gmail.com

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