In their new World Watch List 2022, Open Doors have ranked Afghanistan as the top country in the world for Christian persecution. As Afghan Christians suffer at the hands of the Taliban, the UK church must consider the part it has to play in advocating for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.

Last week Open Doors published their annual report of the top 50 countries where Christians experience persecution based on their faith. As a country where religious freedom is virtually non-existent, North Korea has sat at the top of the World Watch List for the past 20 years. However, following the withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan in August of last year, and the subsequent takeover of the Taliban within the country, Afghanistan is now considered to be an even more deadly country to be a Christian than North Korea. 

It would be encouraging if the reason that North Korea has been knocked off the top spot is because conditions are getting better for Christians living there, but this is sadly not the case. According to Open Doors’ report, North Korea has reached its highest level ever for persecution, with the introduction of a new anti-reactionary thought law’ resulting in an increase in the number of Christians being arrested. 

In reality, North Korea has not been knocked off the top spot because it has improved, but because the situation in Afghanistan has rapidly become worse. According to the report, North Koreans may momentarily escape death by being sent to a labour camp, whereas in Afghanistan the discovery of a male Christian will most likely result in execution. After 20 years of being suppressed by foreign troops, the Taliban are asserting their authority by ensuring that Islam and its values on issues such as the role of women are strictly abided by. Christians, women, and numerous other minorities are living in constant fear for their lives.

"The rise of Afghanistan to the top of the World Watch List is deeply troubling. Apart from the incalculable suffering it represents, it sends out a very clear message to Islamic extremists everywhere: ‘You can continue your brutal fight for influence, unchecked."
Henrietta Blyth
Henrietta Blyth
Chief Executive Officer, Open Doors UK & Ireland

What can the UK church do?


As Christians living in a country where we enjoy the freedom to practice and express our beliefs, it can be easy to forget the horrors faced by Christians living in countries where persecution is high. Over the last couple of years, we have felt the frustrations of restrictions being placed on the way that we gather and worship together. However, mask-wearing and social distancing rules are minuscule when compared to the atrocities faced by our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan.

Instead of dwelling on our frustrations with Covid-related restrictions, let us view them as reminder to stop and pray for those who risk unimaginable fear as they gather to worship. As you attend church this week, praise God for the freedom of being able to sing hymns without fear of military intervention and for being able to pray without having to speak in hushed tones. Take some time to pray that Christians in Afghanistan, North Korea and the 48 other countries on the World Watch List will one day have these freedoms too. 

Take action

As we think about the persecuted church, we can often feel a bit useless – what could we possibly do that would create change? But there is a role for the UK church to play. People experiencing persecution need to know that there are safe countries to seek refuge in where they will feel welcome. 

There is a bill currently going through the UK parliament that will create a hostile environment for asylum seekers who use unauthorised means to escape the horrific persecution that they suffer. While changes to our asylum system are necessary, particularly in relation to creating more formal routes to help people come to the UK, the Nationality and Borders Bill leaves little space for compassion towards those who are in desperation and unable to access authorised channels.

The UK church must be the voice of reason for the government and lead the way in ensuring that our country is a place ready to welcome and meet the needs of the persecuted. We can do so by engaging with our MPs around the Nationality and Borders Bill and by making our churches welcoming places for asylum seekers and refugees. 

To stay up to date with the Nationality and Borders Bill, and the ways Christians can engage, sign up to the Everything Advocacy newsletter and visit the immigration and refugees section of our website.

Read Open Doors’ World Watch List 2022 here.