The government has been asked to stop giving foreign aid to countries where Christian persecution is rife without ensuring that the money reaches Christians in need. Britain currently gives £12 billion in aid abroad, but little of that reaches Christians who are among the most sidelined and persecuted groups.
Christian persecution has reached an historic high thanks largely to the rise of radical Islam across Africa and the Middle East. Christian charity Open Doors has documented the rise, and earlier this week launched its latest World Watch List at an event in Parliament attended by MPs from across the political spectrum.
Introducing the List, which details the 50 countries where persecution is the most rife, CEO Lisa Pearce highlighted the fact that the majority of those countries receive a substantial amount of aid from the UK.
Last year, for example the UK handed more than £1 billion in aid to Syria to help those in refugee camps, in an attempt to stem the flow of migrants into Europe. Announcing an extra £100 million in September, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “We must make sure that people in refugee camps are properly fed and looked after but also to stop people wanting to make or thinking of making this very, very difficult and very dangerous journey to Europe”.
He also committed to welcoming 20,000 Syrian refugees from UN camps in the region into Britain.
However, in the same week, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby met with Mr Cameron privately to warn him that the policy would specifically exclude Christians from receiving British help, as Christians stay away from the camps for fear of persecution by Muslim refugees.
In a speech in the House of Lords Archbishop Welby said that “within the camps there is significant intimidation and radicalisation, and many particularly of the Christian population who have been forced to flee are unable to be in the camps.”
Similarly, the most recent full report into British aid spending, undertaken in 2013, showed that Pakistan, Ethiopia and Bangladesh received the most bilateral aid from the UK.
Yet Pakistan ranks 6th in the Open Doors report on persecution, Ethiopia 18th and Bangladesh 35th.
Pakistan has on its statute books a series of Blasphemy Laws against Islam which carry severe punishments. Wilful desecration of the Koran carries a penalty of life imprisonment, while the penalty for blaspheming against Mohammed is “death, or imprisonment for life”, in that order.
The laws have been used to persecute minority groups including Christians for decades, often in brutal ways. In 2014, 26 year old Shahzad Masih and his wife Shama Bibi, 24 were burned alive in a brick kiln by a crowd of Muslims, accused of blasphemy for allegedly burning the Koran. In fact, Shama had merely burned some unwanted papers belonging to her recently deceased father in law. She was four months pregnant at the time of her death.
Pearce urged the government to do something, telling MPs: “We have influence. We must not sit on the sidelines while Christianity is quietly eroded around the world.”
Speaking to Christian Today afterwards, she urged the government to guarantee “our aid money is reaching the most vulnerable groups”.
“In northern Nigeria aid is distributed by regional governmental organisations which are majority Muslim,” she warned, “and it would be naïve to imagine Christians get a fair proportion of that. They don’t.”
Conservative minister Theresa Villiers, who launched the event, said it was important the “government as a whole takes this issue very seriously”. However, she went on to tell Christian Today: “it would be difficult to look at a human rights record of a country and say under no circumstances would we give aid.”
Fiona Bruce, the Christian Tory MP for Congleton acknowledged that the government should do more for Christians, but insisted that handing out the aid was the right thing to do as “these are countries where there is serious suffering”.