"Deported Christian group returns to Greece"

(no author, "The Irish Times", October 14, 1999)

GREECE: Members of Christian group denied entry into Cyprus and Israel over fears they were part of a doomsday cult arrived in Greece today with officials promising not to block their way.
The group, comprising 18 Irish, six Romanian children and one Colombian woman, said it had only wanted to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and repeated allegations of mistreatment by Israeli authorities.
"We have had a horrific experience, being denied entry into Israel, beaten by Israeli police, detained by armed police for 36 hours and then deported," said a spokesman for the group, who refused to give his name, but who was identified by immigration officials in Rhodes as Joseph Smith.
He scoffed at reports they were plotting a mass suicide to coincide with the millennium.
"This has and continues to be a very shocking event. We are a Catholic community travelling to the Holy Land ... We have been labelled as a cult, as terrorists, as part of an organised suicide pact with vast amounts of money," he said.
An Irish Embassy official said information suggested the group was simply a religious community with no suspicious ties. The non-Irish members of the group all have Irish visas. Some of the children are handicapped.
The group was helped by the Irish ambassador in Israel and by various Catholic clergymen in Israel, the spokesman said. The Irish ambassador to Israel, Brendan Scannell, said he "expressed concern" about the episode.
Israeli police spokeswoman Linda Menuhin said Monday that authorities used "reasonable force" when the group refused to get on a bus in the port of Haifa. But officials have not given details about why the group was branded a potentially dangerous cult.°
Israel is on high alert for any groups considered capable of carrying out terrorist or suicidal acts linked to the millennium.
After being denied entry into Israel, the group travelled to Cyprus aboard the cruise ship Nissos Kypros. But Cypriot officials in the port of Limassol also refused to allow them into the country.
Greek immigration officials said the group would be allowed to enter the country unless they proved to be dangerous.
No members disembarked in Rhodes and the ship was scheduled to early tomorrow at Piraeus, the port of Athens, where their journey started.
"I can assure you, that like the other passengers, they were very orderly, very quiet and polite," said Yiannis Kaveros, the captain of the ship carrying 370 passengers. He said he did not hear any talk of suicides.
The group's final destination is unclear. But there were suggestions they could use three minibuses aboard the ship to drive to the western port of Patras for an Italian-bound ferry.


"We'll be back, vow banned pilgrims"

by Martha Kearns and Marese McDonagh ("Irish Independent", October 14, 1999)

THE IRISH pilgrim group deported from Israel were yesterday allowed off the boat for the first time in six days and are due in Piraeus, Greece this morning. The 19 Irish citizens, who are travelling along with six Romanians and a Columbian, are still hoping that they will be allowed to return to Israel to continue their pilgrimage.
The group, who were ordered out of Israel on Monday night after being branded members of an extreme Christian group plan to stay in Piraeus for a few days to ``consider our position, rest and decide what to do''. However, they still have no place to stay and their funds are diminishing fast.
The captain of the ship carrying the Pilgrim House Foundation group from Co Wexford last night defended them and laughed off suggestions that they were members of a doomsday cult.


``I can assure you, that like the other passengers, they were very orderly, very quiet and polite,'' said Yiannis Kaveros, the captain of the Niso Kypro ship carrying 370 passengers.
``I definitely didn't hear any talk of suicides'', he said. On Tuesday the group were refused entry to Cyprus but when they arrived in Rhodes port yesterday morning they were told by local police that they could leave the ship for three hours until it departed for its final destination in Piraeus.
``After six nights on the ship, there is finally no problem with letting us off the ship,'' said Brother Nicholas Leahy. ``On Monday night, we were very cramped on the ship with limited cabin space but people got off the boat at Limassol yesterday so we had more room.
'' Speaking from the docked ship he said that the group were still hoping to return to Israel to continue their pilgrimage and were still in touch with the Irish Ambassador to Israel, Brendan Scannell.
``We certainly want to go back. The Ambassador is still working hard at negotiating to get us back in. But we've had no word yet as to the decision,'' he said.
The group, which includes children and mentally handicapped adults, were on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land but were refused entry at the Israeli port of Haifa by police who feared they were members of an extremist cult. They claim they were manhandled by police.
Although the group had been vouched for by the Bishop of Ferns, Dr Brendan Comiskey and Foreign Affairs Minister David Andrews, the Israeli authorities feared the group were extremists who planned to commit suicide with the advent of the millennium.
``We have had a horrific experience, being denied entry into Israel, beaten by Israeli police, detained by armed police for 36 hours and then deported,'' one of the group told reporters in Greece yesterday.
An Irish Embassy official said the group had spent four years raising money for the trip to the Holy Land. They provide care for people with mental and physical disabilities, he said.


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Thu, Oct 14, 1999