COVID-19 crisis in Africa increasing levels of Christian persecution, charity says

COVID-19 crisis in Africa increasing levels of Christian persecution, charity says

This photo taken Saturday, June 13, 2020 shows the aftermath of an attack by Islamic extremists in Monguno, northeastern Nigeria. (Credit: UNDSS via OCHA, via AP.)

As the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continues to hit Africa hard, a leading human rights group is warning that the persecution of Christians is getting worse during the crisis.

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – As the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continues to hit Africa hard, a leading human rights group is warning that the persecution of Christians is getting worse during the crisis.

As of Aug. 11, Africa recorded 1,064,546 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 23,839 deaths attributed to the disease, although experts say the true numbers are properly much higher, due to a lack of access to proper testing.

Open Doors, a leading charity working to help persecuted Christians around the world, says the pandemic has also created more opportunities for persecutors to target believers where they are already vulnerable, leaving them even more exposed.

“Though many factors determine the vulnerability of populations to Christian persecution and to COVID-19, a common thread between the two vulnerabilities has surfaced in Niger,” explained Open Door’s Paige Collins.

“Here, some Islamic extremist voices have propagated the message that the coronavirus is a Western invention against Islam or Allah’s punishment against those who have accepted Christianity and departed from Islam. Christians are reporting increased harassment as a result of the rumors, which are likely driving additional exposures to the virus as well,” she told Crux.

“While Christians in many African countries, including Nigeria and Ethiopia, have experienced discrimination for some time, their need for food, shelter, and medical care has significantly increased due to the coronavirus. Relief discrimination is making a bad situation worse for Christians and other religious minorities,” Collins said.

What follows are excerpts of Crux’s conversation with Collins.

Crux: Open Doors data shows a direct correlation between countries that are most vulnerable to COVID-19 and the persecution of Christians. Can you explain?
Though many factors determine the vulnerability of populations to Christian persecution and to COVID-19, a common thread between the two vulnerabilities has surfaced in Niger. Here, some Islamic extremist voices have propagated the message that the coronavirus is a “Western invention against Islam” or “Allah’s punishment against those who have accepted Christianity and departed from Islam.” Christians are reporting increased harassment as a result of the rumors, which are likely driving additional exposures to the virus as well.

Violent attacks against Christians have also continued throughout the lockdown period. David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, said, “Boko Haram and its splinter groups are opportunistically expanding into the void of governance left when all attention and resources are focused on containing the coronavirus.”

How does this persecution affect Christians?
Persecuted Christians count among the most marginalized in Africa, who are least likely to receive help from their governments and neighbors. A Christian pastor in Sudan said, “When Christian converts do ask for help from their Muslim community, they are told they have to give up Christianity if they want to be helped. It is a tragedy.”

While Christians in many African countries, including Nigeria and Ethiopia, have experienced discrimination for some time, their need for food, shelter, and medical care has significantly increased due to the coronavirus. Relief discrimination is making a bad situation worse for Christians and other religious minorities.
Rebecca from Nigeria said, “I lost my husband during the crisis in Jos and since then, life has been difficult for me and my five children. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been very difficult to feed my family, because we cannot continue business. I sell vegetables in the market to get money to feed my children. I try my best to feed them once a day. When lockdowns are lifted for us to restock our homes, I have no money to buy food. Sometimes I cry myself to sleep because I feel so helpless, and the thought that my children went to bed hungry makes me sad. Remember me in your prayers, that God will fulfil His promise that he will never leave or forsake me.”

How has Open Doors been dealing with the crisis?
The primary objective is to help to Church survive. Open Doors works through local church partnerships to provide emergency relief food, shelter, medical care, and trauma counseling to more than 15,000 Christians including who have no other source of help. Many of them are widows, converts from Islam, displaced families, and pastors in rural areas. Every $65 provides a month’s relief supplies of food and soap for a family – as well as other emergency needs such as rent or medicine.

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