Persecuted and forgotten, the tragic exodus of Christians from the Middle East

In its latest report, Aid to the Church in Need highlights the tragedy. In the West Bank, Christians are now less than 1 per cent of the population, down from 18 per cent. More than 5,000 have left in recent months. In Syria Christians have seen their proportion of the population go from 10  per cent to less than 2  per cent since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011. On 23 November, Red Wednesday will be held to raise awareness about the issue.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – In many parts of the Middle East, Christians face a real existential threat, with once flourishing communities in several countries now on the verge of extinction, this according to the latest report by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Released a few days ago, the report, titled Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith 2020-22, looks at the situation of Christians around the world. In the case of the Middle East, it notes that some of the world’s oldest Christian communities are at risk of disappearing as a result of mass migration.

For Card Louis Sako, primate of the Chaldean Church, this exodus is unprecedented. Pope Francis also raised the issue in his recent meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, urging him to undertake greater efforts to preserve the Christian presence in the region and stop the outflow of Christians, which has reached alarming levels.

Although for different reasons (Islamic fundamentalism, economic woes, wars), this exodus concerns most of the countries of the region, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and the Gulf.

The report shows that almost three quarters of a century after the birth of the State of Israel, Christians in the West Bank have seen their numbers plummet from 18  per cent to under 1 per cent.

In the past 20 months, more than 5,000 Christians have left, including from Jerusalem, mostly for Europe, the United States, and Canada.

News from neighbouring Syria is not much better; on the contrary, since the start of the civil war in 2011, the size of the Christian community dropped 10  per cent to less than 2  per cent, and now its very existence is in danger.

“More than five years on from the military defeat of Daesh (Islamic State), the threat of a full-scale resurgence has by no means disappeared,” reads the report. “A revival of jihadism has the potential to deliver a knock-out blow for Christianity in its ancient heartland.”

Importantly, “This is not only because the numbers of Christians are now so low but also because their confidence is so fragile; they may have made it through times of genocide but, in the absence of security, the draw of migration is – for many of them – all but irresistible.”

All this “is magnified in a cultural setting which remains antipathetic to Christians. Treated as second-class citizens, discriminated against at school and in the workplace, poor pay or joblessness trigger many to seek a life outside the country.”

In the case of Iraq, with the rise of the Islamic State, at least 50,000 Iraqi Christians found refuge in Lebanon, but now they are but a few hundreds, as most left the region forever for North America or Australia.

Even Jordan, despite its relative political stability and better security, is no longer a haven for Christians who are leaving in droves.

The same is happening in Lebanon. In 30 months, the Canadian embassy in Beirut received over 10,000 immigration applications from young people and families. The only other time that saw such a push to leave was at the height of the country’s civil war.

In view of the situation, ACN is holding a “Red Wednesday” next week (23 November), a day of prayer and reflection. The faithful are urged to pray and parishes are asked to illuminate their churches in a silent protest against the scourge of persecution.