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Release date: July 31, 2006

Wayland students’ mother applying for political asylum due to hostile climate

PLAINVIEW – Fedha Mohamed Elyas has visited her children in Plainview, Texas, USA before, and returned home to Africa with no problems. But this time, going home doesn’t present a rosy picture.

              Elyas is a resident of the Comoros Islands, off the southeastern coast of Africa, and is a professed Christian. While the 98 percent Muslim country has not traditionally been open to other faiths, the election of a new ruler recently meant a much more hostile environment for Christians. Many have already been imprisoned, fined and tortured, and Fedha has no reason to believe she will receive any different treatment. Friends have already reported her house was searched and her name is on a list of Christians now in the hands of the Comorian government.

              Elyas first visited Plainview last summer to see her son Daniel, then a senior at Wayland Baptist University, and a daughter, Maureen, a sophomore. She returned in the spring to see Daniel receive his diploma from WBU and planned to stay for a few months. News from home, however, has left her afraid to return.

              Under the ruling of Islamic fundamentalist Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi since May, the Comoros Islands are currently ranked 15th on the Open Doors list of the Top 50 worst persecuting countries in the world. Elyas and her fellow Christians had to worship in secret for fear of being discovered by the government.

              “(The government) did not give you liberty to preach or worship,” she said. “People would come to my house, which is far from town, to worship. Someone would stand outside so if they saw anyone coming, we could hide the Bibles.”

              Choosing Christianity in 1996, Elyas’ family turned her back on her when she turned her back on Islam. Though raised in the Muslim tradition, she would sneak away to attend church as a young adult.

              “Sometimes when I found myself in real trouble I would pray the Christian way. I would pray to Jesus,” Fedha said. “But whenever my prayers were answered I would tell myself it was just coincidence, and go back to the Muslim way.”

              She soon chose to follow Christ and has been an outspoken leader of the Christian group in the Comoros.

              A diabetic who controls her condition with diet and exercise, Elyas and her family believe a prison sentence would be almost a death sentence. In the Comoros, all basic necessities such as food and clothing have to be provided by the family, not the state. Christians attempting to bring food would run the risk of being arrested themselves.

              “One of the Christians (in prison) was sick with malaria (the number 1 killer in the Comoros) and some people brought him medication which they gave to the guards,” Daniel said. “But it never reached him. Even if a family member brings you food, there’s no guarantee that it will get to you, especially if you are Christian.”

              With two children in the United States and another son, Nicky, studying in France, Elyas has no one in Comoros to care for her should she end up in prison.

              Her only hope is to apply for political asylum in the United States and hope to wait out the political storm in her own country. She intends to return there as soon as conditions are safer, as do her children, also Christians.

              Daniel studied business and hopes to do humanitarian work back in the Comoros. Maureen, pursuing a degree in criminal justice, wants to make a difference as well in her home country, where justice has little meaning.

              And both hope to keep their mother in the states long enough to see the political winds change. Her travel Visa expires in September, so time is limited to get her legal paperwork in order. It’s also a costly venture, with an area immigration lawyer estimating $8,000 to $10,000 in expenses.

              With the political climate at home, her assets are frozen and she must try to apply for a temporary work permit if she wants to support her family. She worked as a translator, fluent in six languages, and is trained in the medical field as well. For now, Daniel, who is pursuing a master’s degree at Wayland and working in the admissions office, is supporting the family.

              “It’s an awful big load to put on the shoulders of a young man just out of college,” said Elaine Seagler, a Plainview resident and fellow church member at Plainview Bible Church that is helping to raise money in the area for Elyas’ application. “This is a genuine need. We’ve got a very caring, giving community.”

              Information on the persecution in Comoros can be found at the Web site www.persecution.net. To donate to Elyas’ cause, an account has been set up at Wells Fargo Bank, titled “Fedha’s Political Asylum Account.” For more information on donations, contact Seagler at (806) 293-8780 or (806) 729-1495.