Christians are being 'strategically driven' from their homes

A Christian in persecution hotspot Afghanistan. (Photo: Open Doors International)

The Christian presence is at risk of being completely erased from some parts of the world due to persecution, a new report warns.

"The Church on the Run" report by Open Doors describes a "deliberate strategy" to weaken, silence or completely eradicate Christian populations.

"While displacement is sometimes perceived as an unintentional by-product of persecution, in many instances, it is intentional and can be part of a wider strategy to completely eradicate Christianity from the village, region or country. In some instances, the strategy is overt and public, in others it is covert and informal," the report says.

Open Doors' Global Gender Persecution Specialist, Helene Fisher, said, "Part of this deliberate strategy is to fracture religious communities." 

The most common driver of displacement for persecuted Christians was their family, followed by local and national government officials, the local community, and violent religious groups.

Converts reported receiving threats of death or violence, and being deprived of food or shelter.

"Converts to Christianity widely reported being ousted by their families, being threatened to the point of death, and put under such extreme pressures that fleeing was deemed their only option," the report said.

Sometimes, different factors "work alongside each other, weaving a tapestry of persecution that drives Christians to flee".

"In some cases, the top two or three agents driving persecution will be influenced by one another," it continues.

"For example, a family might force a Christian convert to leave their home, in order to avoid action by government officials or the community which could negatively impact the family."

The report highlights the example of Iraq where a once thriving community of over a million Christians has dwindled to just 166,000.

"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," said one Iraqi refugee.

According to the findings, Christians reported that their religious identity caused or was a contributing factor to their displacement in 58 of the top 76 countries on the World Watch List - Open Doors' annual ranking of countries where Christians suffer most for their faith.

Even if persecuted Christians flee to camps for safety, their suffering can continue as they are "singled out" because of their faith.

This can take the form of being attacked by other displaced communities inside the camp or being denied aid.

"They told me I wasn't forced to become a Christian, so it's my problem, it's my fault," said Hamid, an Afghan Christian who faced multiple attacks from his fellow refugees.

These challenges "can be compounded by a lack of understanding and effective responses from humanitarian actors", including NGOs, international organisations and host nations.

"This can range from unintentional neglect to strategic targeting and disempowerment of individuals and communities," the report said.

In response to the findings, Open Doors is calling for "greater knowledge of, and sensitivity to" the challenges faced by Christian refugees and IDPs in order to better protect them.

Eva Brown, a Senior Research Analyst for Open Doors, said, "The findings of this report present a vital challenge to everyone trying to offer aid and assistance to displaced communities.

"Unless they truly understand the 'faith factor' at work in these massive diasporas, then they will never be able to properly protect and help large numbers of those that they are attempting to serve."