06/15/2022, 11.36
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Open Doors: millions of Christians among refugees

In 58 of the 76 countries where Christians are most persecuted, they say they have also been forced to leave their homes, reveals a new report by the NGO active in the defence of religious freedom: "It is not a consequence, but part of the strategy of persecution. Governments and international bodies must not close their eyes to this aspect in welcoming refugees".

Milan (AsiaNews) - The persecution of Christians is not only taking place in their own countries, but is also at risk of perpetuating itself among those who have been forced to abandon everything in order to get to safety, reveals a new report released today by Open Doors

Through its World Watch List the international NGO constantly monitors situations of the most serious persecution against Christians globally. The study - entitled "Refugee Church. Report 2022 on Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees" and released ahead of World Refugee Day on 20 June - cross-references data on religious freedom with those that recently led UNHCR to put at 100 million the number of people in the world today who have been forced to flee their communities.

The result that emerges is that in 58 of the top 76 countries on the Open Doors World Watch List (see graph above), there are Christians who claim to have been forcibly displaced from their homes because of their religious identity. Among the internally displaced - that is, those who have been forced to leave their homes but remain within the borders of their own country - almost half (46%) come from five countries that are also on the list of those where Christians suffer persecution the most: Syria, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia and Yemen. Even 68% of refugees - that is, those who find themselves having to leave their country because of war and violence - come from 5 countries that experience a high level of discrimination and religious persecution: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar.

It is precisely this strong overlap between the countries of origin of refugees and the countries known as the worst violators of religious freedom in the world that leads Open Doors to affirm that a better understanding of the role of religious identity would be vital to meet the needs of those fleeing and in particular Christian minorities.  "To get a full picture of religious persecution, we need to look at both the Church at home and the Church on the run," comments Helene Fisher, an expert from the reseacrh team. "Dividing religious communities is part of a deliberate strategy. Displacement is not just a by-product of persecution, but in many cases a deliberate part of a broader strategy to eradicate Christianity from the community or country."

In the Middle East, the case of Iraq is emblematic, where according to Open Doors just 166,000 Christians remain, compared to one million twenty years ago. And even after the military defeat of Isis in 2017, the return of displaced people is still hindered by the lack of security and the lack of support from the authorities in the operation to recover property lost in the last ten years due to the conflict.

As for the situation in the rest of Asia, the main factors that lead people to leave their homes are family and local community, with strong pressure on those who convert to Christianity from another religion. Particularly serious is the case in Pakistan, where religious minorities live under the shadow of laws against apostasy and blasphemy that mean that even within families themselves a conversion can be seen as a threat to their honour.

Political instability and the rise of extremist religious groups are other factors fuelling displacement in the region, as is happening for example in Myanmar, particularly in the Karen, Chin, Kayah and Kachin States. In North Korea, where no religion is allowed, those who flee seek greater freedom across the border, for example in China. But according to one regional expert, Covid-19 has further complicated the situation with the consequence that North Korean men are even more exposed to threats of denunciation by Chinese employers, while women run the risk of being trafficked.

Raising awareness about the presence of so many Christians among IDPs and asylum seekers,' Open Doors concludes, 'is also a way to protect them in their flight. There are in fact situations where their suffering continues even in the camps, precisely because the issue of religiously motivated violence is not sufficiently focused on. "In some cases," explains Eva Brown, Senior Specific Religious Persecution Analyst at Open Doors, "governments and even well-intentioned international organisations can unfortunately be complicit in intensifying discrimination against displaced Christians. This is why awareness of this vulnerability at multiple levels is vital, so that the needs of displaced and marginalised refugees can best be addressed'.

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