THE BLOG

Persecution Is Grossly Underestimated By Western Governments

25/01/2017 12:56 GMT | Updated 25/01/2017 12:56 GMT

"I have personally buried more of my congregation than I can count... I've received texts from Boko Haram telling me they know where I live and they're coming to kill me... but my wife and I have decided to stay."

Pastor Aminu from Nigeria definitely had the attention of the room last week, as the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List was launched to almost 90 MPs in Parliament.

The Open Doors World Watch List stems from a global annual survey which measures the scale and trends of Christian persecution around the world, right down to a village level. It's thorough, it's independently audited, and it's worrying.

In speaking up for the rights of Christians we also speak for the rights of all people from every faith and none to practice what they believe. And of course, it is not only Christians who suffer.

So what about the big trends? In last year's report we highlighted that despite the horrors that unfolded in Iraq and Syria, persecution of Christians was growing most rapidly across sub-Saharan Africa thanks to the likes of al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and their many imitators.

This year, Asia has leap-frogged sub-Saharan Africa as the region of the world where persecution of Christians is rising most rapidly: in fact four out of the five countries where persecution is rising fastest are in Asia. In India alone last year, a Christian was beaten for their faith on average 15 times per week. The increases in many Asian countries in the last year have been significantly driven by the disturbing rise of religio-ethnic nationalism - the practise of effectively conflating national and religious or ideological identity - making anyone who does not follow the state-sanctioned religion or ideology a target for oppression, expulsion or worse.

Persecution is a global phenomenon and it often increases by stealth. Our research unit refer to the 'smash' and the 'squeeze' of persecution. The smash of the big incidents affecting a lot of people at once are the ones that often hit the headlines. But arguably the squeeze - the insidious limiting of the rights of minorities, the difficulties in getting a job, the exclusion of Christian children from education, the community beatings and tauntings in remote towns and villages beyond the media radar - these are the most dangerous. Because when communities can squeeze the Christians with impunity, the situation usually escalates - just as when the state at a national or regional level make life impossible for Christians, then hostile communities know they can do what they like to the Christians and the government won't interfere. So again the situation escalates.

The headline-grabbing activities of Daesh - the so-called Islamic State - have precipitated a major migration crisis impacting Europe, as well as the countries where Daesh operates with impunity, as never before. Another big finding of this report is that religious persecution is a significant driver of global forced migration. The UNHCR states that 34,000 people are displaced each week due to conflict or persecution. Eight out of the 10 countries listed by the UNHCR as providing the most refugees globally are on our 2017 World Watch List. In each of these countries, being a Christian compounds the pressure they are under from other more obvious drivers of displacement - and often the trouble for Christians does not end when they reach the refugee camp.

They can flee a particular violence only to have fresh violence being perpetrated against them in the place they have run to for sanctuary. That may not surprise you when the refugee camp is in Nigeria. It might just surprise you when the refugee centre is in Germany. Our research unit gained access to some of the German refugee centres after a number of phone-calls reporting violent incidents against minorities. The research team conducted interviews with 753 Christians; 743 Christians and 10 Yazidi. Between them they had experienced 416 violent assaults, 46 sexual assaults and 314 death threats. The team took photographs of some of the related injuries, which you would not want your children to see.

It has taken a lot of advocacy work with the German government to have this recognised as a serious issue, and to agree some measures to protect Christians and other vulnerable minorities within the centres. I raise this not as a criticism of the German government - there is much to be impressed by in the generosity of their approach to refugees. Instead I raise it to illustrate how the impact of religious differences and vulnerabilities within the same ethnic group are frequently, and often grossly, underestimated by western governments - even those with the very best intentions. This needs to change.

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