The official estimate for the number of refugees globally passes the 50 million mark for the first time since World War II. According to UNHCR reports, over half of this figure belongs to refugee children. In a world experiencing a severe deficit of peace, security and stability, millions of people around the globe are left with no option but to evict themselves from their own homes – their own countries. Whenever the refugee topic crops up, generally speaking many consider war, famine, being in opposition to dominant political leaders and parties, or belonging to minority tribes and castes as among the reasons for why there are so many displaced people worldwide. But what many people fail to recognise is how the frequent and substantial persecution of religious minorities acts as a catalyst to drive millions of inhabitants out of their homeland.
Most of the world’s attention has been focused on the Middle East recently and not for no reason. Place yourself in the shoes of a Syrian Shiite or Christian in this current climate. You are surrounded by unbearable violence and lack all the basic essentials needed for you and your family daily. Your communities are routinely targeted by Islamic militants with your homes and Churches lying in utter ruin. You have had friends and family members kidnapped, sold into slavery or beheaded – leaving you extremely vulnerable and unprotected. Fundamentally you have been deprived of your sanity and humanity. You too would join the countless others in search of a life worth living.
These are the untold stories of the civil war in Syria, the violent instability and upheaval in Iraq, Libya and Lebanon. And not just this continent but throughout Africa, where Boko Haram are persecuting Christians especially in northern Nigeria, to the Central African Republic all the way through to Somalia where the brutal violence enacted against the Christians and minorities by al-Shabaab and other militant groups see millions displaced across the region. The same paradigm can be found throughout South Asia – from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and stretching to Afghanistan.
Recently approximately 600,000 Syrian Christians have been reported to have fled to neighbouring countries, joining a total of the 2 million Syrian refugee population.
The United Nations estimate that a third of Syrians have been displaced by the last few years of war. It is feared that if the migration of Christians from Syria continues then the country will emulate Iraq, which since 1990 has witnessed three-quarters of its Christian population take flight. As much of this minority community has been substantially depleted in both these nations, the Church is in perilous decline to the extent that it faces permanent extinction.
The continent of South Asia fares no better. The usual persecution is daily carried out against the country’s minority Shia, Ahmadi and Christian communities. But especially poignant in Pakistan is its controversial Blasphemy Law used against its Christians who account for 2% of the total population.
Those acquitted of Blasphemy charges remain in constant danger of being targeted and killed. One example is Farrukh Gill, forced to flee Pakistan with his family after being falsely accused of writing blasphemous letters and burning pages of the Qu’ran. Such charges were later dropped but the beatings, police torture and continued death threats saw the Gill family flee to a designated safe-house provided by a Christian charity. Their country of migration is unclassified.
Since December 2012 when a militant Islamic uprising initiated in the Christian-majority Central African Republic, over 1 million people have been displaced by the bloodshed and thousands of Christians have fled to neighbouring countries. In the wake of the abduction of the Chibok girls, Boko Haram have implemented a bloody massacre, butchering thousands of people in villages to the North-east of Nigeria. This has prompted thousands to migrate to nearby countries and 5 million Nigerians are reported to be displaced in recent years.
It is not possible to comprehend 50 million refugees let alone each individual story. The ones mentioned have not even scratched the surface in any of the above countries. But it is imperative to recognise that from all the continents of the earth, persecution of minorities is a daily occurrence and only those financially able, only those fortunate to obtain the relevant documents are able to escape the trauma that is their life. For too many decades have the Kurds been dispossessed and without an official homeland, finding residence in neighbouring Turkey and Syria and yet in this current climate this displacement is further guaranteed. With other minorities such as the Yazidis well on their way to adopting a similar status.