Open Doors International recently published “The Church on the Run” report to coincide with refugee week. It is a 30-page report exploring the complex and interconnected relationship between the religious persecution of Christians and displacement. There are three key reasons why the report is such an important read.

1. For millions around the world, religious identity remains deeply important

In the UK, we live in such a secularised society that popular culture and policymakers can often forget and sadly disregard how important religion is to cultural, political, and social relationships for millions of people living in the global south. 

On 5 – 6 July, at the freedom of religious of belief ministerial, UK parliamentarians and policymakers were reminded of the fundamental freedom to believe, choose, and practise one’s religion or belief. Survivors of religious persecution also took the opportunity to share their experiences of what happens when this freedom is taken away or restricted by the state or the local community — often resulting in a diminishing of other rights, like freedom of expression, health, education and right to life. 

For church leaders and Christians involved in refugee resettlement and community integration, this report serves as a reminder of the powerful role [the church] plays in supporting displaced persons, not just Christians refugees of Internally Displaced People (IDPs).”

Affirming a person’s religious identity and supporting them to settle and integrate into the local community is as important as finding accommodation, enrolling children into school or opening a bank account. 

2. It reminds us that language matters

Refugees and migrants are two words that should not be interchanged so casually. 

The strength of this report is its consistent use of refugee,” migrant” and IDPs” throughout the report and its analysis of how the three categories are protected differently in law and the unique challenges each face when confronted with the decision to flee their home, community or nation. 

Politicians would do well to take a similar approach when discussing immigration policy and international crises and avoid conflating terms. Both the Brexit debate and 2019 elections were fought on the grounds of taking back control” and often blending the issue of refugee resettlement with the numbers of EU nationals settling in the UK

Most recently the government passed the Nationality and Borders Act, creating a two-tier system where asylum seekers are at risk of being defined as illegal migrants” and sent to Rwanda and Nigeria for their applications for asylum to be processed there. Just this week, the Home Affairs Select committee published its report into Channel crossings, migration and asylum, often interchanging migrant with asylum seeker throughout the report. 

Government ministers and MPs must resist the temptation to oversimplify complex issues in exchange for appealing to constituency and prospective voters. 

Soundbites cannot resolve the boat crossing crisis, nor do they sufficiently respond to the rising issue of global displacement and migration. Tens of thousands around the world are displaced, excluded from immediate community and at serious risk of exploitation because of their religious identity and belief. Parliament must do better to understand the impact religious persecution has on displacement and in-so-doing, propose policy reforms that seeks to uphold the dignity and welfare of those seeking refuge in the UK

There is no universally accepted definition of the term ‘migrant’, and interchanging the terms refugee and migrants can lead to a poor understanding of the challenges and protection needs of different groups - International Organization for Migration

3. “Religious-motivated” displacement has four drivers

The decision to stay or leave one’s home, following verbal harassment or the threat of violence because of an individual’s religious convictions, is not an easy decision to make. There is the difficult balancing act of protecting one’s personal safety against financial cost and the uncertainty of rebuilding a quality of life elsewhere. I value the reports simple, yet effective explainer of what causes Christians and religious minorities to leave their immediate community or country. Page 7 of the report explains the four drivers as: 

  1. Family pressure (immediate or extended) 
  2. State pressure (local or national) 
  3. Community pressure (local community, national citizens including mobs) 
  4. Violent Religious groups 

Open Doors International give a regional analysis of the top three drivers for Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For example, in Asia the top three drivers in order of impact are: 

  1. Family
  2. Community
  3. State pressure

Whereas for those fleeing places like Iraq or Syria the drivers of displacement in order of impact are: 

  1. Community
  2. Family
  3. State pressure — compounded by protracted conflict.

Christians are more likely to be forced out of their home/countries, and more likely to experience psychological and physical violence once displaced on account of their religious identity and activity

Dear Home Office...

In conclusion, I want to encourage the home secretary and home office policy advisers leading on refugee resettlement schemes, to take up one recommendation. 

On the back page of the report there are eight recommendations urging the international community to do more, but there is just one which I want to recommend to the Home Office that is, to ensure meaningful participation by refugees who have fled religious persecution in designing, assessment and implementation of targeted programmes and aids.” 

The onus of implementing this recommendation rests on government officials taking the initiative and seeking to build trust longer-term. 

If trust were built and relationships were restored, this could inform immigration policy and refugee resettlement schemes in a positive way. Those with lived experience of religious persecution and finding sanctuary in the UK can help identify unworkable policies and propose ideas that improve implementation. The government’s long-term policy approach must move from exclusion to integration -designing and co-producing policy in a way that will achieve inclusivity and not division.