At least 360 million Christians are facing persecution and discrimination – that’s one in every seven Christians on the planet. Yet, they choose to follow Jesus despite the fear of arrest, prison, rejection, threats and violence.
Across Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, millions of Christians risk everything, simply because they choose to believe. But, despite the risks, many are bravely still trying to shine God’s love.
This matters. Our relationship with Jesus connects us to these millions of believers around the world. We share the same heartbeat. Together, we are God’s Church. Brothers and sisters – part of the same body, all seeking to show the love we’ve received to the world around us. And when one part of the body suffers, we all do.
The map on this page is about Jesus’ incredible light. It lists the places where faith in Jesus really costs; places where being known as a Christian could mean being cut off from family, shunned by community, facing an unjust prison sentence or being on the end of violent attacks. Use the map to guide your prayers and see where your support is urgently needed.
World Watch List 2023
The Open Doors World Watch List 2023 ranks the 50 countries where persecution against Christians is most severe. The map here lists all 50 countries that appear on the list, but you can find out some more specific details about the top ten countries at the posts below. Have a look and join us in prayer for followers of Jesus who are facing extreme persecution.
Where up to 70,000 Christians are imprisoned in terrible labour or prison camps...
Pray for this East African country, currently No. 2 on the current World Watch List...
World Watch List 2023: Overview
In 2023 at least 360 million Christians around the world experience high levels of persecution and discrimination. That’s an astonishing 1 in 7 of the global Christian population.
Key things to know…
Each day, at least 15 Christians are killed for their faith in Jesus. Last year, 95% of all recorded killings were in sub-Saharan Africa, with the majority in Nigeria.
Last year, 2,110 churches were attacked.
Around 140,000 Christians were displaced from their home or country for faith-related reasons.
In 2022, 4,542 believers were detained and imprisoned without trial.
Islamic extremist groups in sub-Saharan Africa are using extreme violence as they seek to make Africa the first Islamic continent.
China is looking to redefine human rights to focus on stability and security, meaning those, like Christians, who are seen as a threat to the government, face increasing pressures, restrictions and advanced technological surveillance.
Whether it’s Iranian police raiding house churches, dozens of Syrian churches damaged in attacks by Turkish forces or Christian Iraqi children facing bullying from teachers and classmates at school, Christians in the Middle East are still clinging to hope.
The region that has seen the sharpest increase in persecution is Latin America, with four Mexico, Colombia and Nicaragua all rising up the list in 2023.
Any good signs?
This might seem bleak, but we know that ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1:5)
There have been moves towards greater tolerance of religious freedom in several Gulf states, including Bahrain and United Arab Emirates.
This is within a moderate Islamic framework that seeks to counter extremism and make their countries more hospitable for Christians. In such places – as well as in Egypt, where there is an increased focus on ‘national unity’ – hate speech against believers from historical and expatriate communities is often not tolerated, although radical elements still exist within their societies.
Elsewhere in the Gulf, Qatar has seen a reduction in opposition towards Christians. This is largely due to no churches being closed in 2022, which may be linked to the FIFA World Cup and the spotlight it put on the country’s human rights record. That said, a significant number of churches closed during the pandemic have not been allowed to reopen.
The early church stood firm and took huge risks to carry the gospel to the places where they were scattered. Their extraordinary legacy lives on to this day – not only in the way they began spreading the gospel to all nations, but in their example of courageous faith that our persecuted family are seeking to follow today, regardless of the risks involved.
The World Watch List explained
The World Watch List (WWL) is an independently audited ranking of 50 countries where persecution of Christians for religious reasons is worst. The list covers persecution of Christians of all denominations in that entire country. The focus is on persecution for faith, not persecution for political, economic, social, ethnic or accidental reasons.
Open Doors has been monitoring persecution of Christians worldwide since the 1970s and today, the World Watch List provides a comprehensive snapshot of the problem facing many followers of Jesus across the world.
Most importantly though, the list isn’t simply an academic exercise. Behind the stats and figures lie the fate of over 360 million members of our worldwide Church family. It’s an essential tool in helping us pray and act for change.
Our 2022 World Watch List resources are pretty awesome - we have a new World Watch Map, plus a special session for a youth group to work though. If you're in the UK you can order a glow in the dark map and tattoo in the post for free too at opendoorsyouth.org/guts
The church is alive. The church is active. The church is growing. And that’s why the church is persecuted.
The persecution of Christians is getting more severe than ever, affecting increasing numbers of believers around the world. This overview of persecution trends will help give you a better understanding of the situation, and equip you to pray for your brothers and sisters following Jesus no matter the cost.
Persecution continues to rise
For the first time since Open Doors started compiling the World Watch List, all top 50 countries score at least ’very high’ levels of persecution. Twelve countries are categorised as having ‘extreme’ levels of persecution, up from 11 the year before. And there are another 24 countries scoring ‘very high’ or ‘high’ levels of persecution that don’t even make it into the top 50.
Covid-19 is used as a weapon by persecutors
Open Doors research reveals the extent to which Christians are being specifically excluded from receiving Covid-19 aid. Incidents have been recorded across Asia and Africa – where vulnerable believers are deliberately neglected by local authorities when food is distributed, Christian nurses are denied vital PPE, and some Christians are even baselessly blamed for the spread of the virus.
Violence against Christians rises dramatically in sub-Saharan Africa
Of the top six countries where Christians experience the most outright violence, five are in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria – which re-entered the top 10 for the first time since 2015 – saw the most violence against Christians in 2020, with armed Fulani militants killing, burning, kidnapping and raping with impunity. Islamist violence is also why Cameroon rose to 42 from 48, and why Democratic Republic of Congo (40) and Mozambique (45) are new entries to the top 50.
Authoritarian governments increase surveillance and restrictions
Increasingly, countries are using modern surveillance methods to monitor citizens for their own ‘protection’ and ‘security.’ In China (up to 17 from 23) a mix of new laws and increased surveillance have propelled it back into the top 20 for the first time in a decade.
Religious nationalism continues to fuel persecution
Since the 2016 attempted coup against President Erdogan, Turkey (25) has pursued a much more open Islamist and nationalist agenda. Increasing violence and intolerance directed towards Christian minorities sees it rise 11 places. In India (10), rising Hindu nationalism continues to claim that ‘to be Indian is to be Hindu’.
Leader: Prime Minister Narendra Modi How many Christians?: 69.9 million (5% of the population) World Watch List Rank: 10
“If needed I will die for Jesus, but I will never leave Him.” Sumi, who was forced from her village because of her faith in Jesus
Where is it?
Those in power see being Indian as being Hindu, so Indians that are Christian are despised.
Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus, and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam.
Violence and attacks on Christians can be extreme.
It’s not uncommon for those converting from Christianity to be rejected and excluded by family and community.
India still has a strict caste system that orders society. Many Christians come from the poorest caste, the dalits or untouchables. They are despised by others in higher up, more respectable castes.
The persecution of Christians in India is intensifying as Hindu extremists aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence. The driving force behind this is Hindutva, an ideology that disregards Indian Christians and other religious minorities as true Indians because they have allegiances that lie outside India, and asserts the country should be purified of their presence.
This is leading to a systemic, and often violent and carefully orchestrated, targeting of Christians and other religious minorities, including use of social media to spread disinformation and stir up hatred.
Most church leaders are men, and being a pastor is understood to be one of the riskiest vocations in India. Hindu extremists target leaders and their families to instil fear among the local Christian community. Persecution of Christian women and girls often takes the form of physical abuse and, in some reported cases, trafficking. The daughters, sisters and wives of pastors are particularly vulnerable.
Simply being a Christian in India is enough to be in acute danger of persecution. For those active in telling others about Jesus, the risk is heightened even further.
Sumi – whose name has been changed for security reasons – and her family were amongst several Christians forced from their village because of their faith. They set up homes on farmland, but the conditions were poor.
Despite threats and attacks by village extremists, Sumi’s husband, Ravi, kept telling others about Jesus. “That was the joy of his life,” she shares. Tragically, Ravi’s perseverance and bravery cost him his life. He was shot dead.
Clutching her Bible close to her chest, Sumi – now a single a mother of four – remains steadfast in her devotion to Jesus. “I will continue living here, and will continue the ministry of my husband,” she says.
When Sujit led 60 people to Christ in his village he faced opposition and violence. Three times the villagers destroyed the church, three times he was beaten. Yet he has not given up and he intends to return.
Open Doors local partner Rajesh (not his real name) explains the risks of following Jesus in India and tells us what it’s like for him to support vulnerable believers.
How is Open Doors helping?
Open Doors partners strengthen the church in India by providing Bibles, emergency aid, persecution survival training, livelihood training and community development projects.
Lord Jesus, help our persecuted brothers and sisters in India to stand strong in their faith and shine as stars (Philippians 2:15) in their local communities. Continue to manifest Your love and power through healings and miracles. Guard Your children from harm and equip them for the challenges they face. Provoke social media companies to do more to combat the use of their platforms to spread disinformation and hatred. Soften the hearts of influential local leaders and officials towards Christians, so that greater protection is given to them. Amen.
Latest news and articles on India…
Click the India tag below for a list of the latest articles and news on the country…
Each year the World Watch List reveals some depressingly dark facts. This year is no different. But behind the facts are also signs of hope. Read the points below to get the full picture.
What you need to know: Key facts…
Worldwide, persecution is rising.
Over 260 million Christians experience high levels of persecution.
At least 9,488 churches and Christian buildings were attacked.
More than 3,711 Christians were detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned.
Last year, at least 2,983 Christians were killed for their faith in Jesus Christ.
Want more detail…
In the World Watch List Top 50 countries alone, 260 million Christians face high or extreme levels of persecution, up from 245 million in 2019. What’s more, Open Doors estimates that there are at least a further 50 million Christians facing high levels of persecution in 23 countries that haven’t made it Into the top 50.
And the level of persecution is getting worse.
In 2020, 45 of the 50 World Watch List countries are places where Christians are at risk of very high or extreme levels of persecution. That’s five more countries than in 2019.
Altogether, 1 in 8 Christians worldwide face persecution measured as extreme, very high or high.
Throughout 2019 fewer Christians were killed for their faith, but more churches were attacked (partly due to China stepping up efforts to close churches).
In sub-Saharan Africa different radical Islamist groups are taking advantage of conflict, instability and poverty to set up home in states like Mali (29), Niger (50) and Burkina Faso (28). In these weak and fragile states many Christian communities are left without protection from their governments.
Women and girls have been especially vulnerable. In Pakistan (5), Nigeria (12), and Egypt (16) hundreds of Christian girls and young women – especially ages 13-20 – are abducted, raped and forcibly married and converted.
Christians in the Middle East are still facing tough times.Although some Christians in Syria (11) and Iraq (15) are beginning to rebuild their shattered communities, they remain at risk. There are signs that Islamic State is regrouping, while Iranian-backed Shiite militias continue to threaten, harass and intimidate Christians. And the Turkish incursion into north-eastern Syria has directly affected 40,000 or more Christians in the region.
But, prayer and action change things. In Pakistan in 2019, Asia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row on a false blasphemy charge, was finally flown to freedom in Canada. There she was reunited with her family, although they all still live ‘under the radar’ for their own safety. Her vindication and release was a much-needed encouragement for the country’s beleaguered Christian community. Finally, justice had been done.
The World Watch List is about the big picture – the facts and figures, the global trends. But the big picture is made up of millions of individual faces. Here are six representatives of persecuted Christians from around the world who really need your prayers and support.
1. A house church Christian in North Korea
An Open Doors partner visits 12 Christian families to encourage them. “They have only one Bible in the whole group, and each family must take turns to borrow it,” he reports. “They hide the Bible in a secret place. Once a month, three families get together and worship together; once a year all believers get together in a mountain valley to worship and have secret fellowship.”
“We always remember all the prayer support from all over the world,” says one of their leaders. “It encourages us to live another victorious day in Christ Jesus.”
Pray for peace and protection for the Christians of North Korea as they meet in utmost secrecy.
In some ways 10-year-old Maryam is just like any other girl. She goes to school, plays with her friends, runs errands for her mother. She sings and plays her guitar. But Maryam lives in a refugee camp in Erbil. Her family fled from Mosul when Islamic State invaded. Thanks to the help of Open Doors supporters, they, along with thousands of others, have been helped with food, accommodation and heating. But her dearest wish is to return home, to the life she had before everything was torn apart.
“Please pray specially that we can return home,” she says. “Because the most precious thing for us is that we can return home – then we can go back to our schools, we can return to our beautiful churches. And pray that our situation will improve and that we won’t grow weary or have doubts.”
Pray for the safety of displaced Christians. Pray that one day they will be able to return and rebuild.
“The persecution and tribulation is ongoing,” writes a group of pastors from Eritrea. “As some Christians are released from prison, others are going in for the sake of the gospel. We accept and understand that this is how the gospel of Jesus Christ is to be preached, and we thank God for that.
“We have no shortage of food and financial support because of your obedience to support us in all our needs. We are very thankful for that and we hope things will change soon so that we are able to give thanks to God and gather with you freely in our homeland.”
Pray for Christians in prison for their faith, that they will stay strong, keep the faith, and bear witness to those around them.
When al-Shabaab militants from Somalia crossed into Kenya and attacked the university campus at Garissa, Frederick Gitonga (21), the Chairman of the Christian Students’ Union, survived by hiding under his bed.
“I praise God that some survived, many in truly miraculous ways. However, we are deeply traumatised, broken, and in need of much prayer,” he says.
“Please pray for us. Pray for the surviving students to heal not just in body, but in mind too. Many saw sights too horrible to describe and those memories can harm if not attended to. I pray that they each get adequate psychological help.”
Pray for all Christians who have witnessed or experienced violent persecution – may they receive comfort and healing.
5. A Muslim background believer in an Islamic State
“All of the believers in our area are secret and persecuted,” says a secret believer from Central Asia. “I kept my new faith a secret from my family for two months.”
The reason for her secrecy is that her father is a Mullah – a Muslim cleric. When she told him of her new faith he forbade her from meeting with other Christians.
“I met with them secretly for a year before my father found out. He shouted loud and long… but I had made my choice. I had decided to follow the joy and peace that Jesus brings. To this day my father will not speak to me.”
Pray for courage and strength for Muslim-background believers across the world.
6. A Hindu background believer
Violent attacks on Christians and churches in India increased in 2015. Schools have been destroyed, pastors beaten, church services attacked by mobs. Emboldened by an increasingly hardline Hindu government, some states have passed ‘anti-conversion laws’.
Open Doors’ ‘Standing Strong Through the Storm’ seminars help believers like Ajay face persecution. When Ajay became a Christian his Hindu father was furious. He was beaten for reading his Bible, then forcibly married to a Hindu girl. (The plan backfired – his wife decided to follow Jesus.) Ajay’s father disowned his son, his brothers threatened to kill him and the couple were thrown out of the house. He has never gone a day without some form of persecution, but Ajay is not downhearted: “God is blessing me in countless ways!” he says.
Pray for believers from a Hindu background and for the effectiveness of Open Doors training around the world.
Please note:Bar Frederick, names have been changed and images are not of the real people making the statements, they are only for illustrative purposes!
Get to grips with some of the basic facts we can learn from this year’s World Watch List…
The persecution of Christians has increased… across every region in which Open Doors works.
Religious extremism – Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist – is the greatest source of persecution of Christians.
North Korea is still the most difficult place in the world to be a Christian.
As well as in the Middle East, Islamic extremism has a second and powerfully destructive hub in sub-Saharan Africa.
Islamic State (IS) violence is radicalising Muslims and therefore increasing pressure on Christians in many countries.
Conflict and failed nation states result in increased levels of persecution.
According to the UN, a record 60 million people have been displaced. A great number of these are Christians, especially in places like Syria, Iraq and Nigeria, where anti-Christian violence has driven hundreds of thousands of Christians from their homes.
Gender violence is a weapon of persecution: women and girls are on the frontline.
Open Doors records show that worldwide there were well over 7,000 Christians killed for faith-related reasons in the reporting period. That is a rise of almost 3,000 in comparison to conservative figures from the WWL 2015 period. This is excluding North Korea, Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist.
Around 2,400 churches were attacked or damaged, which is over double the number for the previous year.
In six countries the level of persecution increased seriously (by 7 points or more): Eritrea, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Kuwait.
In nine countries the level of persecution increased significantly (by 5 to 6 points): India, Ethiopia, UAE, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Yemen, Kenya, Indonesia and Niger.
Perhaps the defining image of the past year has been that of the refugee. Their images fill the news reports, huddled into perilously overcrowded boats, eking out an existence in refugee camps, desperately queuing at border posts, or trudging across dusty plains carrying the fragments of their lives in plastic bags.
And darker, even more shocking images: toddlers lying lifeless on Turkish beaches; desperate captives, kneeling at the feet of their black-clad executioners.
Our impression of the refugee crisis is largely defined by events in the Middle East. Yet the truth is that this is a global phenomenon. Throughout the world, people are on the move – and millions of them are Christians.
The Middle East
Syria is the ‘largest displacement crisis globally’ according to the UN. More than half the Syrian population have left their homes; 7.6 million are internally displaced within the country, and 4 million are refugees outside it. Before the war there were some 1.8 million Christians in Syria; now best estimates stand at between 700,000 and 800,000.
Most of Syria’s refugees have ended up in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan. But many Christians fear to go into the camps where, in the words of one, ‘we are still a vulnerable minority in a very dangerous place’.
“You flee to survive and keep your children safe, but that is just as hard in the camps,” said a father in a refugee camp in Lebanon. “It can be tough to find enough to eat and also to stop undesirables preying particularly on our young daughters.”
Syrians feature heavily among the many refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean. But Eritrea is the biggest source of asylum seekers in Europe. According to the Commission on Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, 5,000 people leave Eritrea every month. The percentage of Christians among these is hard to estimate, but clearly it is very high. Ethiopians also flee their country in large numbers, as do those from Sudan. For Christians, the journey through Islamised North Africa is highly dangerous, as we saw with the barbaric executions of 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya.
Then there is Nigeria, where an estimated 2 million people are internally displaced, many of whom are thought to be Christian. In the north, Boko Haram have displaced many thousands, but the hidden story comes from the country’s middle belt, where a campaign of religious/ethnic cleansing by Hausa-Fulani herdsmen has targeted Christians, burning their fields and shops and houses, and forcing them off their land.
South Asia is also struggling with mass-migration. In particular, there are two quiet tragedies today in this region concerning Christians.
In Pakistan, which has risen to #6 on the 2016 World Watch List, oppression and violence have forced thousands of Christians across the border to Thailand. The UN claims that some 4,000 Pakistani Christians have fled; the real number is thought to be about 10,000. The Thai government refuses them refugee status: they cannot work, are subject to police intimidation and live on handouts.
Meanwhile, in Myanmar the government continues its war against Christian minority groups such as the Kachin and the Chin. A reported 100,000 Christian refugees have crossed the border to China, with even more internally displaced. They live in camps that offer little protection: abuse is rampant, drugs are common, and many vulnerable young girls are exploited and married off.
In Colombia, over six million people have been displaced – making it second only to Syria in the numbers of internally displaced people. Though most have fled from war zones, still many Christians are forced out of their communities by paramilitary violence and religious persecution. In Mexico there are just over 281,000 displaced people. A significant proportion of these are Christians, displaced by indigenous tribes, who hate it when people become Christians and reject their tribal traditions.
Keeping hope alive
Refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) lose so much: their homes, jobs, communities, possessions – even their sense of status and identity. But the one thing they dare not lose is hope.
As one of the 120,000 Iraqi Christians who fled from the Nineveh plain said: “Yes, we have to cope with the trauma of leaving, and sometimes with the dreadful things we have seen, but the hardest thing I find is to keep hope alive that we will ever return – if you feel despair about the future then it is very hard to find the motivation to survive.”
This is where the presence of Open Doors is so important. With your support, our local partners are providing vital food, medical aid and shelter to tens of thousands of Christians who have been forced to flee their homes, but are too poor or infirm to escape their war-torn nations. We are visiting them, praying with them and assuring them that the global body of Christ has not forgotten them. This is a long-term as well as a global crisis, which is why Open Doors is also investing in long-term support such as trauma counselling, small business loans, and leadership training for church leaders who feel called by God to stay and serve their people – strengthening the church to be the church in the most dangerous places on earth. In this way, said another displaced Iraqi mother, ‘you help to keep our hope alive’
Leader: Interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh How many Christians?: 34,400 (0.5% of the population) World Watch List Rank: 5
Where is it?
Since the revolution in 2011 the situation for Christians has got worse and worse.
The government says all Libyans are Sunni Muslims, though there are an estimated 34,400 Christians (the vast majority of these are migrants and not Libyan nationals).
It’s illegal to take Arabic Bibles into Libya or to share the gospel.
The government has been unable to stop violent extremist groups, like those affiliated with IS, taking control of strategic areas.
A key leader has suggested that Christians should be thought of as a threat to national security. Police monitor Christian activity.
Migrant workers from other countries are allowed churches, but churches for Libyans are forbidden.
Libyan converts may be beaten by family members, whereas Christian migrant workers can face threats and severe violence.
Libya is effectively a lawless land where to be a Christian is to live a secret life of faith.
Those who leave Islam to follow Jesus face immense pressure from family to renounce their Christian beliefs. Their community excludes them, and they can be left homeless, jobless and alone. Telling others about Jesus can lead to arrest and even violent punishment.
Believers are further exposed to danger since Libya has no central government, so laws are not enforced uniformly. Targeted kidnappings and executions are always a possibility for believers.
Large numbers of refugees from sub-Saharan Africa pass through Libya to reach Europe. Many of these are Christians, and their time there is highly dangerous. They are likely to encounter harassment and threats from Islamic extremist groups, or be abducted and used as slave labour by organised crime groups. Some are put straight into the hands of these gangs by their human traffickers.
How is Open Doors helping?
Open Doors works with local partners and churches in North Africa to provide leadership training, discipleship, livelihood support, Bibles and pastoral care.
Father God, we weep for the lawless situation in Libya. We pray against the evils of human trafficking and the organised crime gangs who profit from human misery. Break their power and bring back law, order and justice to Libya. Thank you that it is not illegal to become a Christian in Libya – we pray for a strong and just future government that will enforce that law. Give our brothers and sisters across Libya great comfort and hope in You, and safe ways to communicate with and encourage one another. Amen.
Latest news and articles on Libya…
Click the Libya tag below for a list of the latest articles and news on Libya…
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