The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has been a "catalyst" for the repression of Christian minorities around the world with some denied emergency relief because of their faith, according to Open Doors' latest annual report on the persecution of Christians across the globe.

The report - known as the World Watch List - said that among those countries where Christians had been refused COVID-19-related aid because of their faith were Bangladesh, Pakistan, Yemen and Sudan.

It also included India where some 80 per cent of the 100,000 Christians receiving aid from Open Doors' partners had reportedly been dismissed from food distribution points with some having to walk considerable distances and forced to hide their Christian faith to obtain food elsewhere. Meanwhile in Nigeriafamilies from several villages in southern Kaduna reported receiving one sixth of the rations allocated to Muslim families, while in Somalia, Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab blamed Christians for COVID-19.

Persecuted Church Christians at a church service

Christians at a church service. PICTURE: Open Doors

Mike Gore, CEO of Open Doors Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement that the situation reflected the "sad but true reality of persecution and discrimination around the world".

"The persecutors use whatever tools possible to inflict the most harm and the greatest consequence on Christians who choose to follow Jesus. It is a terrifying thought that another human would use the fear of COVID-19 as a tool of conformity when it comes to one’s faith choice.”  

TOP 10 COUNTRIES WHERE CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION IS WORST

1. North Korea
2. Afghanistan
3. Somalia
4. Libya
5. Pakistan
6. Eritrea
7. Yemen
8. Iran
9. Nigeria
10. India

Source: Open Doors, World Watch List 2021

The flagship report found that more than 340 million Christians around the world face high levels of persecution and discrimination, a figure which equates to one in eight Christians. Open Doors said that for the first time since it began compiling the list, only countries with "extreme" or "very high" levels of persecution featured in its list of the 50 worst nations for Christian persecution this year - a finding which indicates an increase in the severity of persecution faced by Christians.

Gore, describing the trend as "alarming", said it was one Western churches and governments needed to proactively address.

"Religious freedom is coming at a greater cost each year and now more than ever before we need to use our voice to advocate for persecuted Christians."

North Korea topped the list of 50 countries where persecution of Christians is the worst for the 20th year in a row, followed by Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan - all of which filled similar positions last year. Nigeria, meanwhile, topped the list of nations where violence against Christians was worst followed by Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique.

The biggest movers on the list of nations where persecution of Christians is worst included Turkey (up 11 places to number 25), Colombia (up 11 places to number 30), and Tunisia (up eight places to number 26). Re-entering the top 50 after dropping out last year was Mexico, now at number 37, the DRC, now at number 40, Mozambique (number 45) and Comoros (Number 50).

The report also found that Christians are being deliberately targeting for human trafficking, particularly girls and women for the sex trade. It cited a finding from the Religious Liberty Partnership which showed that 90 per cent of experts surveyed agreed COVID-19 had caused an increased trafficking of women, either significantly or moderately. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also seen an increase in vulnerability to domestic violence during lockdown and among Christian converts and women while reports of kidnapping, forced conversions and forced marriage of women and girls also increased. 

Correction: A reference to Christian families not being given as much aid as Muslim families in Nigeria has been corrected. Apologies for any confusion.