When it comes to global Coronavirus aid, Christians and other religious minorities worldwide are being forced to decide: give up your faith or let your family starve.
Open Doors USA, a religious freedom watchdog, reports that Christians in Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Sudan, Vietnam, and elsewhere are excluded from food and medical relief distribution in order to pressure their religious conversion.
“There are local governments and extremist groups who are using the pandemic as a catalyst for relief discrimination,” said David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA. “Christians are overtly told they must pledge allegiance to another faith to qualify for the supplies they need to survive. This is a sinister persecution tactic that is likely to spread as desperation grows for religious minorities.”
Forced conversion as a condition of relief distribution is especially prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa, where Islamic extremist factions have gained influence by perpetuating attacks throughout recent lockdowns. Nigeria alone has recorded 87 religiously motivated attacks so far this year, not including those carried out in neighboring countries.
Open Doors reports that Muslim-dominated local governments in Nigeria have more access to food relief, while predominantly Christian communities are receiving smaller rations. Sulu, a pastor from Kaduna state, said, “Christians really don’t have food.”
A pastor in Sudan, whose name is withheld for his safety, said Christians who have converted from Islam are regularly cut off from local help and supplies. This problem is more severe now that “people aren’t able to work in lockdown, so they don’t have money for food or rent. When they do ask Muslims for help, they are told they have to give up Christianity first. It is a tragedy.”
Open Doors reports that Ebrahim, a Christian in Ethiopia, attempted to register for government food assistance. He was rejected by officials claiming he is an “infidel.” His family also pressured him to return to Islam in return for their help. Girma, an Ethiopian father of three, successfully registered for relief, only to later be “removed from the list” when authorities learned he is a Christian.
Open Doors is also responding to troubling trends in South Asia, where Christians in Vietnam were told “you are not on the list” for relief distribution. In East Malaysia, a local mosque told a group of Christian students, “We will give you food if you come back to Islam.”
Pastor Sam, an Open Doors partner in the region, explains, “They are not able to receive the support because when it goes to the villages, the village head normally discriminates against the Christians. They say, ‘Well, you’re Christian. You became a Christian so you are not part of this support.’”
In India, Christians are also facing pressure to convert to Hinduism in order to receive relief. Heena, an Open Doors partner, said Christian families in Hindu villages are often “socially boycotted” leaving Christians with few options to survive.
“They don’t allow you to buy from the local shop or draw water from the well. In lockdown, government aid is distributed to the local village committee who is boycotting you, so they won’t give you food,” she said.
More than 8,000 families in India have received emergency food and hygiene kits from Open Doors partners since the crisis began. Throughout Asia, more than 100,000 persecuted Christians have received help so far.
Open Doors is also delivering relief aid to 1,500 Christian families in urgent need of help across sub-Saharan Africa, where coronavirus cases are still likely to rise. Each relief package contains enough food to provide for one family for one month. The ministry hopes to deliver provisions to 15,000 more families in the coming months.
For more information, and to help provide essential relief to Christians under pressure, visit OpenDoorsUSA.org.
About Open Doors USA
For more than 60 years, Open Doors USA has worked in the world’s most oppressive and restrictive countries for Christians. Open Doors works to equip and encourage Christians living in dangerous circumstances with the threat of persecution and equips the Western church to advocate for the persecuted. Christians are one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world and are oppressed in at least 60 countries. For more information, visit OpenDoorsUSA.org.