Christians throughout the Middle East are being threatened with “imminent extinction,” according to the Church of England’s most senior clergy. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, warns that Christians living in the birthplace of their faith now face “the worst situation since the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.”
Ahead of a special worship service highlighting the contributions of Middle Eastern Christians, Welby implored the U.K. government to accept more refugees. “Christians face daily the threat of violence, murder, intimidation, prejudice and poverty,” he said on December 1. “In the last few years, they have been slaughtered by [the] Islamic State, and in many countries they find themselves squeezed between…conflicts that afflict the region. Many have left. Hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes. Many have been killed, enslaved, and persecuted or forcibly converted.”
The number of Christians in Iraq has decreased by half during the past 15 years, Welby notes. The same has happened to the Syrian Christian population, but in just eight years. “Across the region,” he says, “Christian communities that were the foundation of the universal Church now face the threat of imminent extinction.”
Christians in the Middle East Endure “unimaginable horrors”
This isn’t the first time the Archbishop has addressed the crisis. In 2013 he said, “Christians are the most widely persecuted religious group in the world today,” adding that “they are driven into exile from a region in which their presence has always been essential.”
Welby urges Christians to “support and help” fellow believers in the Middle East “in every way we can,” including prayer, asylum and publicity. Syrian Christians, he says, shouldn’t be expected to choose between living under President Bashar Assad, “under whom they were tolerated,” and “the unimaginable horrors and threats” of ISIS.
Tuesday’s special service at Westminster Abbey will include a reflection by Prince Charles, who previously spoke of his “heartbreak” about the situation. During an Easter message this year, the heir to the British throne said, “I have met many who have had to flee for their faith and for their life—or have somehow endured the terrifying consequences of remaining in their country—and I have been so deeply moved, and humbled, by their truly remarkable courage and by their selfless capacity for forgiveness, despite all that they have suffered.”
Advocacy groups that share the stories of persecuted Middle Eastern Christians use care to protect their anonymity. “We were fed dog food,” says a 71-year-old, “and they told me that Christians must be not alive.” He adds, “We were told convert to Islam or be killed… The jizya [tax for non-Muslims] was also an option, but some of my neighbors…were killed after paying jizya.”
A Chaldean Christian family with a disabled child endured imprisonment, threats of rape and murder, and a traumatic separation. They “escaped by a miracle,” the father says, but “next time we will not survive.”
Refugee Resettlement Numbers Have Plummeted
Despite the mistreatment and dangers that Middle Eastern Christians face, fewer are receiving asylum from countries that had previously offered assistance. That includes the United Kingdom and the United States.
Of the 4,832 Syrian refugees admitted to Britain in 2017 through the country’s flagship Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, only 11 were Christians. That’s just 0.23 percent, a drop from 1.5 percent the previous year.
During the first half of 2018, only 23 Christian refugees from the Middle East were admitted to the United States—a decrease of 98.5 percent from the first half of 2016. In 2017, for the first time since the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980, America resettled fewer refugees than the rest of the world.
In August, members of the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) wrote to the Trump administration, expressing “deep concern” about changes in the country’s refugee resettlement program. The letter, addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and two other officials, notes that declines in admitted refugees “have been most stark for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, many of whom have endured a genocide at the Islamic State.”