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The non-Governmental organisation, Open Doors, estimates that in the top 50 countries on their World Watch List for 2020, 260 million Christians are persecuted for their religious beliefs, compared to 245 million in 2019. In 2014 only one country, North Korea, was ranked as ‘extreme’ for its level of persecution of Christians. In its 2020 report, 11 countries fall into that category. In the last year, Open Doors estimates that attacks on churches have risen 500%, from 1,847 in 2019 to 9,488 in 2020.

Indeed, the International Society for Human Rights estimates that, worldwide, Christians are believed to be targets of about 80% of all acts of religious discrimination or persecution.

Acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, in December 2018 the then Government asked the Bishop of Truro to conduct an independent review into the Foreign Office’s support for persecuted Christians worldwide, and to recommend improvements. An interim report of that review was published in May 2019, followed by a Final Report in July 2019.

Among its recommendations were:

  •  To seek a Security Council Resolution urging all governments in the Middle East and North Africa to protect Christians, and other persecuted minorities, and allow UN observers to monitor the necessary security measures.
  •  To identify a label for Christian persecution, to better inform and develop tailored Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) policies in response.
  •  To consider imposing sanctions on perpetrators of serious human rights abuses against religious minorities, including Christians.
  •  To establish a stream of the Magna Carta Fund, dedicated to helping persecuted Christians.
  •  All Foreign Office staff – at home and abroad – should have mandatory training on religious literacy, subject to resources.
  •  British embassies and high commissions in relevant countries should deliver tailored responses to any violations of freedom of religion or belief.

In response to the Final Report, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, then Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief said:

Freedom of Religion or Belief has been a key priority for the FCO within our human rights agenda in recent years. Both strategically and through a focus on priority countries, we have not only raised the profile of religious persecution and abuse, but also acted on the rising tide of Christian persecution across the world with some success.

We therefore note the findings of this independent report and will consider the recommendations carefully and how they may further enhance our work in tackling Christian persecution specifically and in strengthening our work on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

In January 2020 the Government confirmed that it had accepted the report’s recommendations in full, and that work was ongoing to implement them “in a way that will bring real improvements in the lives of those persecuted because of their faith or belief”.

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