2016 World Watch List: Some global trends in persecution

Libya Christians
A gathering of Christians in Libya which has entered the Open Doors World Watch List Top 10 for the first time amidst lawlessness and terror perpetrated by Islamic State (IS) affiliates. (PHOTO: Facebook).
African countries continue to move into the Top 50

Sixteen countries in the Top 50 are from Africa, seven in the Top 20. One of the two newcomers to the list is Niger (#49). Among the countries just below the Top 50, that will no doubt feature in future lists, no less than nine of the 15 under the Top 65 are African and mainly sub-Saharan countries. Islamic Extremism in the world today has two hubs, one in the Middle East, the other in sub-Saharan Africa. In numerical terms at least, though not in degree, the persecution of Christians in this region dwarfs what is happening in the Middle East.

More states are lawless, with minorities suffering at the hands of violent groups
Libya is the country that the world forgot in 2015, but enters the Top 10 for the first time ever. It is a lawless state divided into three separate regions, with Islamic State (IS) affiliates gaining more territory rapidly. The small Church, made up of Believers from a Muslim Background, has to dive deep to survive, and migrant Christians, particularly from Sudan and Eritrea, are also targeted. Dozens have been killed this year, often in grisly beheading scenes videoed and broadcasted by IS (or ISIS). In war-torn Yemen the Saudi-led forces make it even harder for the few Christians remaining. Syria will enter its fifth year of civil war, and Iraq remains divided into three countries – the Kurdish part, the IS part, and the Shia part. In all three it is getting worse for Christians too.

Large scale, historic Christian migration
12.5 million Middle Easterners are refugees, though few know what the percentage of Christians is of the refugee total. It must be considerable though. Aleppo was one of Syria’s most Christian cities, but by the spring of 2015 the numbers of Christians in the city had gone down from approximately 250 000 to roughly less than 40 000 in the four years of the war. Less known are the tens of thousands of Christians leaving the 12 sharia states of northern Nigeria, where 27 million Christians live in second class citizen status, and now many thousands are fleeing the anti-Christian violence of Hausa-Fulani herdsmen in the Middle Belt region. This has created enormous numbers of internally displaced people in northern Nigeria, many of whom are Christians. In Kenya many Christians are fleeing from the Muslim majority areas. Tens of thousands continue to brave the desert and trafficking gangs to leave Eritrea, many ending up in Europe, where the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said in November 2014 that 22% of all refugees reaching Italian shores were from Eritrea alone. Even Pakistani Christians are fleeing to countries in South East Asia claiming asylum on grounds of persecution.

Extremism remains very well financed
Evidence exists that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have financed IS, primarily as a means of curbing Iranian expansion, and it has long been known that the Pakistani intelligence bankrolls factions of the Taliban in Afghanistan to maintain a strategic interest in its neighbour. IS too sells oil to the Turks, the Syrian Government and even Kurdish elements, though Western interference may change this. Extremist movements are adept at raising funds from organised corruption and crime. IS, despite their oil revenues, still kidnap Christians for money, and over 300 Christians are currently missing in Syria. In parts of Latin America drug gangs run entire regions, and even impose taxes on churches. In Somalia, Al-Shabaab responded to lost territory by quickly renting themselves out to tribes as enforcers in local disputes. Christians always suffer when these violent movements keep their coffers full. As one local Christian said gloomily, “full coffers also mean full coffins.”

Ethnic cleansing as an anti-Christian tactic
In the Middle East and Africa, persecution is taking place in the context of ethnic cleansing or genocide. In north, northeast and Middle Belt Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Sudan (Nuba Mountains), Somalia, and northeast Kenya, persecution
involves a pattern which is systematically backed by a policy of State or non-state actors. In the Middle Belt region in Nigeria, Christians have been forcefully removed from their homes and indigenous land by the Hausa-Fulani settlers. In Kenya Christians were singled out and killed (execution-style) on different occasions. In Sudan, Nuba Christians have been indiscriminately targeted and killed. In all these countries, persecution has been taking place with the intent to remove or even to exterminate Christians.

The Good News

Still, there is good news. As an Indian saying rings, “Children only throw stones at a ripe mango tree,” and persecuted Christians the world over will often say, “We are persecuted because we are doing something right, and this persecution shows we are ripe fruit for Christ.”

Sri Lanka: Buddhist nationalist deposed
A dictatorial President, Mahina Rajapaksa, was unexpectedly defeated in the January 2015 elections after appearing very confident of his victory. He had close ties to two radical Buddhist movements and since then both movements have been quiet. Churches are still attacked by local communities, but consented violence seems to be on the decrease even if it continues to make little difference if Christians complain after an attack.
Kurdish Iraq remains a beacon of freedom
Most of the 120 000 Christians who fled the Nineveh Plain when IS swarmed over it in the summer of 2014 landed in Kurdistan. On the whole they are safe, though there are concerns about an Islamising culture. Still, they experience a haven of peace where they are not preyed upon, and can receive foreign aid whilst awaiting their hopeful return to their homeland.

Pakistan-terror leads to greater church attendance
Pakistan has never been higher on the WWL (#6), and this year it joined Nigeria in attaining the maximum points for violence against Christians and Christian property. Often, however, a single story can reverse a decline, and in one city a volunteer security guard saw suicide bombers approach a church. He tackled them, losing his life in the process. The following week the church was bursting at the seams. Such heroic acts of sacrifice can give courage to a whole faith community, and beyond it!

Syrian refugees continue to find Christ
Many Muslims are finding Christ in the refugee camps of Jordan and especially Lebanon, and upon their return, proceed to plant churches in their communities. An unprecedented level of openness and co-operation between Christians and Muslims remains in Syria. One Syrian pastor from Aleppo said, “We will distribute aid to anyone, and Muslims respect that and come to us, which is a big shift because they used to be taught that Christians would try to kill or poison them.”

Historic Ecumenical Conference for the Persecuted was held
For the first time in the modern history of Christianity, high ranking leaders and representatives of the various Church traditions gathered together to listen to, learn from, and stand with, persecuted churches and Christians in the world today. The global gathering of 145 people took place 2 to 4 November 2015 in Tirana, Albania, and included high level representatives from the Roman Catholic Church, the Pentecostal World Fellowship, the World Evangelical Alliance and the World Council of Churches. Pope Francis sent a message hoping that the “shedding of blood” would create a new unity among the world’s churches. Leaders of the world’s great Christian

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