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08 January 2015

Global persecution on the rise

Global persecution on the rise

International Christian charity Open Doors yesterday launched its annual World Watch List report, revealing the stark fact that the persecution of Christians worldwide has increased in 2014.

It is taking place in more countries and with more intensity than ever before. Persecution has particularly hit the Middle East hard, threatening the demise of Christianity in the region as refugees continue to flee. The organisation, which marks its 60th anniversary this year, is calling for urgent action to be taken as the crisis continues to worsen. 

With recent news focused on the harrowing events in Syria and Iraq, especially following the rise of the extremist group Islamic State, this leading report explains that there are now only 300,000 Christians left in Iraq compared to 1.2 million in 1990. The World Watch List goes on to reveal that over 700,000 Christians have left Syria since the conflict broke out in 2011, with 200,000 Christians fleeing the country in 2014 alone.

One of the key trends contributing to this crisis is the rise of Islamic extremism, which is noted as a major factor of persecution against Christians in 18 out of the top 20 countries in the World Watch List. 

However, experts from Open Doors, which began serving persecuted Christians in 1955 and now works in over 60 countries, also warn that the persecution of Christians is far more widespread than just in the Middle East and in some countries is even more severe. One of the biggest trends is the rise in persecution in countries where it has not historically been an issue –in parts of Asia, Latin America, and especially sub-Saharan Africa. Even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination and violence. Sudan, for example, was number 11 on the list in 2013 but has now risen to number 6, with Nigeria moving up from number 14 to number 10, and Kenya being the highest climber on the entire list.

CEO of Open Doors Lisa Pearce says: "This report portrays a devastating picture of what is happening to the church around the globe - the worst ever since this detailed research began. The rate of increase in persecution of Christians in the last year is shocking, and what happens in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa in the next 3-5 years will define the future shape of the church. Urgent action is now required by both the church and state in the UK and Ireland.  We cannot afford to sleep through it".

Open Doors has announced that North Korea, also in the news recently, tops the list of the 50 countries where it's hardest to be a Christian,  making it the most dangerous country in the world for Christians for the 13th consecutive year. Statistics show that Somalia is at risk of becoming as bad as North Korea as the country is ranked a surprisingly close second. 

Despite these harsh facts the World Watch List reveals good news as well as bad. Open Doors has witnessed unprecedented unity for example among significant sections of the Middle East's Christians. On the ground, especially in Syria, historic faiths and the newer denominations have drawn together in remarkable ways. Similarly, in many localities, Christians and Muslims have come together in their need, helping each other by providing shelter, food and clothing. Some commentators in the Middle East shared with the charity that "Muslim leaders have become so shaken by the actions of IS that they are seeking to work with the Christians, and a new understanding of Christian-Muslim relations is being born". 

Open Doors are members of our Religious Liberty Commission which speaks with one voice for the persecuted Church.