According to UK-based Christian advocacy group, Open Doors, the number of Christian martyrs has tripled in two years from 2,100 martyrs in 2013, to 7,100 in 2015. Open Doors, a non-profit group that works in more than 60 countries, strives to address the urgent crisis of Christian persecution throughout the world by evangelizing, supporting persecuted orphans, and offering social and economic support, among other forms of outreach.
Open Doors was founded in 1955 by a young Dutch man named Brother Andrew who sought to help persecuted Christians in Poland. Although the group focuses on bringing awareness and support to the cause of Christian persecution, it also works to bring aid to non-Christians who are persecuted for their faith. According to a 2016 report, religious cleansing has been widespread and increasing at an alarming rate in the Middle East and parts of Africa. Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors, stated, “The persecution of Christians is getting worse-in every region in which we work- and it’s getting worse fast.”
Open Doors uses a point system to record persecutions in each country. In 2013, the lowest ranking country had 35 points. In 2015 that number increased to 53. North Korea, a country where an estimated 70,000 Christians are forced into labor camps, topped the list followed by Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, and Pakistan. India also made its way up the list, from number 31 to 17. The rise of religious persecutions is attributed to an increase in anti-conversion laws introduced by new Hindu nationalists in government. The report found that a church is burned down or a pastor is beaten at least three times a week on average.
The report emphasizes the dangers of religious fundamentalism, attributing fundamentalism to an increase in religious persecutions in 80 countries on the list. Every year, an estimated 100,000 Christians are persecuted for their faith. These Christians largely reside in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has become a hotbed for Islamic fundamentalism. The rise of terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State has seen Christians brutally murdered, taken hostage, displaced, and tortured for their faith. Indeed, in April 2015, 700 students were held hostage by extremists and 147 Christian students were executed after being singled out from their Muslim classmates.
This type of brutal persecution has also seen millions of Syrians displaced from their homes. The report estimates only 60,000 Christians remain in Aleppo, down from the 400,000 who lived there at the start of the civil war. The watch list was officially introduced in the House of Commons on January 13, with over 100 members of Parliament in attendance. Pearce urged action on behalf of the British government, stating, “the trend is stark, as are the consequences for real people - we should not expect that to change unless we are part of changing the situation. As a key voice within the international community and a generous aid provider to a number of the countries on the 2016 World Watch List, I urge our government to do everything possible within their spheres of influence to affect what happens next. We will not get these days back.”