(Image: Courtesy Release International)
West Africa highlighted as hotspot for persecution of Christians in 2022 by Release International
Africa’s Sahel and Nigeria are set to become hotspots for Christian persecution in 2022, says Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world in its latest trends report.
The report notes countries of growing concern that include Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Afghanistan, India and North Korea.
It’s not just Nigeria, but the larger Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa where Islamic extremism is growing.
The Sahel region includes a wide swathe of northwestern Africa and encompasses Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal.
Islamist extremists are gaining ground, not only in Nigeria, but also in the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa.
In Burkina Faso, jihadists targeted Christians in the north of the country in 2021, forcing churches to close and meet in secret.
Attacks ranged from bombings, killings, kidnappings and school burnings to assaults on religious leaders and places of worship.
The Global Terrorism Index says the faction behind most of the killings is Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.
But there is also Afghanistan and Paul Robinson the CEO of Release International, says: “In 2022, there is a very real threat of higher levels of violent persecution in Afghanistan.
‘Our partners tell us that Christians who are unable to follow the outward forms of Islam, such as praying at the mosque and saying the shahada, the Islamic profession of faith, will stand out more clearly. This increases their vulnerability to persecution and the pressure on them to conform.”
Christians fear being reported by family members or neighbors, and fear violent treatment by the Taliban, Release International cities one of its partners, who received reports of homes being searched and some individuals receiving threats, as saying.
When it comes to what faces Christians in Burkina Faso it is now similar to Nigeria, Release International quotes one of its partners saying.
Pressure in the region is likely to continue in the coming year, particularly following the drawdown of French troops in the Sahel area.
Similar pressure is building in neighboring Nigeria, where attacks by Boko Haram terrorists, IS fighters and Fulani militia continued throughout 2021.
“Fulani militants destroyed more than 50 villages and displaced nearly 5,000 Christians,” says a Release International partner.
“The attacks by the Fulani now include kidnappings for ransom. Churches, church leaders and Christian communities remain the primary targets.”
Release says these attacks could escalate in 2022, as political campaigning gets underway ahead of the 2023 general election.
In the past, attacks by Boko Haram and Fulani extremists have increased over election periods.
Release says it is active in more than 25 countries worldwide, “working through partners to prayerfully, pastorally and practically” to support “the families of Christian martyrs, prisoners of faith and their families; Christians suffering oppression and violence, and Christians forced to flee.”