2017 World Watch List launched in Parliament: persecution increasing

The 2017 Open Doors World Watch List was launched in Parliament this afternoon. The new list shows that global persecution of Christians is greater than ever before.

The full report

The Guardian coverage

The meeting was hosted by Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, who emphasised her concern about global freedom of religion or belief and the persecution of Christians in particular, noting that the report indicated that over 200 million Christians in the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian experience high levels of persecution because of their faith.

The meeting was also addressed by Pastor Aminu from Nigeria, who has seen his congregation decimated by attacks from Boko Haram: he said he had lost count of the numbers of his church members he had buried. He himself had received texts from Boko Haram threatening him with death.

The report highlights the displacement caused by persecution. “Conflict produces refugees. Persecution produces refugees. Conflict and persecution together combine to produce even more refugees. Never before have so many Christians been on the move. Nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict or persecution… it is impossible not to conclude that persecution is both a major – and dangerously underestimated – factor in making the fraught and dangerous decision to leave home.”

Nigeria was highlighted in one case study in displacement: Last year the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated the total number of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Nigeria as more than 1.5 million. There are many drivers of the violence from Boko Haram and the Hausa-Fulani conflict, the key triggers of displacement, but religious identity is clearly a significant component… Thus many of the displaced are Christians: 178 of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls are members of the Church of the Brethren, or Ekkliziyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN), which has over one million members and has seen about 700,000 of them displaced and scattered in places like Jos, Abuja, Kaduna and Yola. Some 15,000 others have sought refuge in neighbouring Cameroon. The experience of the IDPs is desperate. Some walk hundreds of miles, crossing the border into neighbouring Chad, Niger or Cameroon. The majority remain in Nigeria, reliant on the kindness of friends or extended family to get by, or crowded into schools converted into unsanitary camps. Now many Christian IDPs are gathering in informal camps as a result of the discrimination they have faced in official camps. Bishop Naga says, “When the care of the camps was handed over to other organisations, the discrimination started. They will give food to the refugees, but if you are a Christian they will not give you food. They will even openly tell you that the relief is not for Christians. There is an open discrimination.”


  • Christians are forced to leave their homes: religious persecution is a significant factor in the global phenomenon of displacement
  • Religious nationalism in Asia is a significant and accelerating source of persecution
  • Islamic radicalisation in sub-Saharan Africa is increasingly mainstream
  • Islamic extremism is the main engine of persecution in 14 out of the most hostile 20 countries in the World Watch List, and 35 of the top 50
  • In the Middle East Christians face pressure under both radical and autocratic regimes
  • Christians are being killed for their faith in more countries than ever before; the global persecution of Christians is still increasing
  • Over 200 million Christians in the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian experience high levels of persecution because of their faith
  • Somalia, Sudan, Mali and Mauritania are countries of special concern
  • North Korea is still the most difficult place in the world to be a Christian.

The key changes in this year’s World Watch List are:

  • Somalia has become the second most dangerous place to be a Christian – only one point behind North Korea
  • Yemen has moved into the top ten on the list
  • Afghanistan (3), Pakistan (4), Sudan (5), and Iran (8) each rose in the rankings among the top ten
  • Increasing negative changes in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have made a significant contribution to the rise in global persecution
  • Kenya is the largest Christian-majority country in the World Watch List top 20.


In the face of increasing worldwide displacement…
Religious persecution is a key driver of enforced migration and asylum-seeking, and the UK government should develop a strategy for positive action in support of the right to freedom of religion and belief (FoRB). This should target nations and areas where there is violent persecution, as well as those where the consistent denial of FoRB and/or the persistent refusal to protect religious minorities is creating the conditions for violence and subsequent displacement in the future.

With the growing threat of religious nationalism…
The UK government should actively champion the full observance of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to increase global security and combat terrorism. It should encourage international bodies such as the United Nations and the Commonwealth to speak out strongly against equating ethnic and/or national identity with an exclusive religion or belief system.
We urge it to discourage casual references to the UK as a ‘Christian country’ while at the same time celebrating the UK’s Christian heritage and the roles that people of many faiths, and no faith, have played in shaping our country.

Following the European Union (EU) referendum…
The UK government should take the opportunity presented by future trade negotiations to champion and defend human rights; in particular the right to FoRB. This is especially pertinent to countries such as China, India, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey, all of which have featured in discussions about trade post-Brexit and rank on the 2017 World Watch List. We echo the Select Committee on Human Rights, which has stated that the human rights clauses currently included in EU trade agreements must be maintained or furthered in any future trade negotiation pursued by the UK.

When combatting the increasing level of persecution against Christians…
The Home Office (HO) should continue revising its country guidance to take full account of the vulnerabilities of Christians and other religious minorities. We urge the HO to increase the religious literacy of its staff so that those processing asylum applications are well-equipped to recognise and handle cases of religious persecution. Finally, we would urge the HO not to restrict visas for clergy and other religious leaders invited to the UK to share about the suffering in their own countries.

While the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) 2016 conference on FoRB and preventing violent extremism was commendable, further mainstreaming of FoRB is now needed. This should promote understanding about how FoRB intersects with issues such as extremism, gender and displacement, while not losing sight of FoRB as an important right in and of itself. Ministers should commit to FoRB being raised and acted upon in diplomatic interactions with other countries and at international fora, recognising that FoRB can contribute to countering extremism, encouraging economic development, assisting the poorest and building resilience within communities.

It is vital that the UK government recognises the multifaceted nature of persecution, and conducts research at an inter-governmental level to assess not only the violent aspect of persecution, but also legal, social and political oppression. This more
subtle, and sometimes less visible, persecution creates a breeding ground for violent and radical groups. Working to limit social, legal and political persecution can greatly reduce violent attacks in the long term.

We urge the Department for International Development (DfID) to recognise the role of religious leaders as advocates for peace and reconciliation. DfID should work with the FCO and other governments and agencies to identify and equip religious leaders in conflict transformation and reconciliation. Robust checks and balances that are fully integrated into government, UN and partner organisations’ programmes are needed to monitor and guarantee equal access to aid and development.

We welcome the increasing interaction between constituents and Members of Parliament on FoRB. Parliamentarians should continue to hold the government to account through oral and written questions on FoRB. Particular attention should be given to cross-border issues, for example the evidence of Christian persecution in a number of European refugee camps.