WASHINGTON (BP) — As North Korea once again held its spot for the 14th consecutive year as the most dangerous country for Christians, religious persecution on every continent has appeared to increase, according to a new report.
Open Doors released its annual World Watch list of the top 50 countries where it is most dangerous and difficult to be a Christian on Jan 13. According to the list, Islamic extremism “continued to be the primary driving force behind the expansion of persecution, with its rise being the lead generator of persecution for 35 out of the 50 nations on the list.”
This year’s top 10 included (1) North Korea; (2) Iraq; (3) Eritrea; (4) Afghanistan; (5) Syria; (6) Pakistan; (7) Somalia; (8) Sudan; (9) Iran; and (10) Libya.
The report specifically spotlighted the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, “regions where persecution has risen to a level akin to ethnic cleansing.”
“The levels of exclusion, discrimination and violence against Christians is unprecedented, spreading and intensifying,” said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA in a media release. “Christians, longing to stay in their home countries, are being forced to flee for their lives and for their children’s lives. The 2016 Open Doors World Watch List demonstrates that persecution isn’t just a Christian problem; it’s a global problem.”
According to the report, more than 7,000 Christians were killed worldwide for faith-related reasons. The loss of life during that reporting period, Open Doors said, is an increase of nearly 3,000 compared to the 2015 Open Doors World Watch List. “This excludes North Korea, and some of Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist,” the report noted.
The report added, “More than 2,400 churches were attacked or damaged, which is more than double the number from last year’s list.”
In 2015, Open Doors reported, conflict and persecution continued to drive mass displacement in the Middle East, leaving 12.5 million refugees throughout the region.
“More than 1 million migrants traveled from the Horn of Africa and the Middle East to Europe in hopes of safer and better lives,” the report said. “In what was the largest Christian city in Syria, Aleppo, the Christian population has been reduced from 400,000 to a mere 60,000. Many Syrian refugees have given up hope of ever being able to return to their war-torn homeland.”
While North Korea remained at the top of this year’s list, Eritrea and Pakistan rose to No. 3 and No. 6 respectively, the report said. They were the two largest countries to go up the list, Open Doors noted. Libya entered the top 10 for the first time.
The report defines Christian persecution “as any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ. Examples include imprisonment, torture, beheadings, rape, and loss of home and assets.”
Curry said, “For Christians in the West, the Open Doors World Watch List serves as a clarion call to pray, advocate and remember their persecuted fellow Christians.”
The list of 50 countries may be viewed online at http://www.worldwatchlist.us/. Open Doors is an organization that seeks to strengthen the persecuted church overseas.