Christians are now the most persecuted religious group in the world and the religion could be wiped out in Iraq within three years, according to a report by a Catholic charity.
The European-based Aid to the Church in Need described the current level of persecution against Christians as being “worse than at any time in history”.
Examining the plight of Christians in 13 countries over the past 12 years, the group found the number of Christians in the Middle East had dropped drastically in the past year.
The report entitled ‘Persecuted and Forgotten?’ claims the number of Christians in Syria had dropped to just 500,000 from about 1.5m five years ago, when the Syrian civil war was only just beginning.
In Iraq, more than half of the country’s Christian population became internal refugees and Syria’s second city of Aleppo, which until 2011 was home to the largest Christian community, saw numbers dropping from 150,000 to barely 35,000 by spring 2017 – a fall of more than 75 percent.
The report predicts Christianity in Iraq could be effectively wiped out by as early as 2020 if the population’s decline continues at the same rate as it has in the past two years.
The report said: “While firm numbers are hard to come by … there is little doubt that the level of Christian persecution remains extremely high in a great number of places around the world.”
“At a time in the West when there is increasing media focus on the rights of people regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexuality, it is ironic that in much of the secular media there should be such limited coverage of the massive persecution experienced by so many Christians.”
“Governments in the West and the UN failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway.
“If Christian organisations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.”
Report editor John Pontifex said: “In terms of the numbers of people involved, the gravity of the crimes committed and their impact, it is clear that the persecution of Christians is today worse than at any time in history.
“Not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution.”
More than 2,000 churches and crosses have been pulled down in China’s coastal Province of Zhejiang – and clergy are still being routinely detained by authorities.
The paper highlights the “eradication” of Christians and other minorities as being the stated aim of Islamic extremist groups, particularly in Egypt and identified growing problems in certain majority Islamic countries and authoritarian states such as Eritrea and North Korea.
Only last month, Coptic Christians in Mina were forced to lock the doors of their church after a mob of more than 1,000 people gathered outside to intimidate and threaten worshippers.