Christians are being deliberately driven from their homes in certain regions of the world, according to the charity Open Doors.
Its new report, called ‘Church on the Run’, says that governments, armed extremist groups and in some cases even families are trying to weaken or eradicate Christian populations.
It comes as new data reveals that there are around 100 million displaced people in the world – one in eighty people on earth. In Iraq, the Christian population has dwindled from over a million to around 166,000.
The report describes a “deliberate strategy” to weaken, silence or completely eradicate Christian populations. Open Doors’ global gender persecution specialist, Helene Fisher, said:
“Part of this deliberate strategy is to fracture religious communities. Displacement is not just a by-product of persecution, but, in many cases, it is an intentional part of a broader strategy to drive out Christianity from the community or country.”
Open Doors found that the most common agent driving displacement for Christians is their family.
Family units can withhold basics for survival, such as food or shelter and can threaten their physical safety with violence or death threats when a family member converts to Christianity.
Violent groups and government officials single out key figures like church leaders for persecution.
Their departure can be the trigger for other Christian families in the community to move.
The report also found that Christians do not leave persecution behind when they flee. In their new “homes” they can be singled out, being denied basic aid or face attack from other displaced communities. This happens whilst they are already processing severe trauma from their initial displacement.
The report highlights the long-term impact of displacement in Iraq with a local refugee saying:
“Everyone is slowly leaving… It happens quietly, but it is happening every day. People pack up their things, lock their doors and leave behind their entire lives.”
Rachel Morley is specific religious persecution analyst for Open Doors and she’s been speaking to Premier about the report:
“We found that religion and religious identity can mean that Christian IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) and refugees carry an extra layer of vulnerability. The thing which is most concerning from the report is that at every stage of the displacement journey, whether that be when a Christian is deciding to leave, or whether they’re in a camp or an urban setting, religious persecution can manifest at every stage or in any place.”
Morley says the systematic targeting of Christians is seen particularly starkly in countries such as Iraq and Nigeria:
“In Iraq, Islamic State, especially over the past decade has resulted in thousands and thousands of Christians being deliberately uprooted from a specific area or lands.
“Another place where we see this is in northern Nigeria, where the role of multiple Islamic extremist groups have made it their goal to remove Christians from that particular area. So we see this strategy of displacements as a tool to uproot Christians from a particular area.
“What we see as well is that religious persecution is part of this complex tapestry of reasons why a Christian will leave. That can be because alongside ethnic tensions, conflicts, there is instability. And we see this in places such as Myanmar, where really it’s this combination of factors, which means that there are thousands displaced both internally and in neighbouring countries.”