Suspicious Eritrean church investigated

1258a214eecebbe189cf49d6bae690fa78d16537The Hague. — Dutch police are probing newspaper reports that at least 20 young Eritrean refugees have become pregnant under suspicious circumstances after visiting a local Eritrean orthodox church, a spokesman said yesterday.

The probe comes after newspapers reported that the country’s Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) has now banned single young asylum seekers from visiting the Tewahdo church in the northern Rotterdam suburb of Schiebroek.

The media reports said there were suspicions the women may have been victims of sexual abuse.

“We’ve noted the reports and are probing whether the facts are indeed correct,” Rotterdam police spokesman Roland Ekkers said.

“At this moment we cannot confirm anything, but it’s certainly a strange story that warrants our attention,” he told AFP, stressing no criminal charges have been laid.

“If it is the case that 20 single women from the church are indeed pregnant, we need to investigate whether a crime has been committed.”

In the first 11 months of 2015, there were some 7,256 requests for asylum from Eritrean migrants — making them the second largest group of refugee seekers in the Netherlands last year after Syrians.

Reports say the Rotterdam church plays a pivotal role in Eritrean society in the Netherlands and has congregants from across the country.

Bart-Jan Walraven, an advocate who has been appointed church spokesman, told AFP: “We are mystified by the allegations.”

“We are shocked and of course, if it did happen, a serious crime has been committed. But at this point we are unaware of anything,” he said, adding the church has unsuccessfully been trying to contact the refugee agency.

Tewahdo board chairman Teklit Girmazion told the Dutch daily De Volkskrant the church’s priests were “furious and shocked” by the allegations.

“It could not have happened here,” Girmazion said, insisting that men and women worshipped separately.

Between 200 to 300 people, particularly young refugees, visited the church on a weekly basis, De Volkskrant said.

The COA said in a statement “it’s true that . . . indications have been received . . . that point to possible abuse. All cases have been reported to the police.” — AFP.

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